Management November 14, 2013 Last updated September 18th, 2018 2,027 Reads share

2 Easy Ways To Avoid The Peter Principle

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Strengthening and growing your business along with engaging and developing your employees should be the items at the top of your “to do” list. Fortunately, when executed properly, these goals complement one another very nicely. However, when they are poorly executed, they can put your business into a slow motion death spiral, or at least cause major setbacks.

You’re probably familiar with the

Natural progression

On the face of it, basing promotion on achievement, success, and merit seems like a great process. In fact, it’s the “natural” way people rise in an organization. A higher-up leaves and a successful underling fills the vacuum. However, it eventually leads to people being promoted one step beyond their abilities.

The organization suffers and the individuals who suddenly find themselves in over their heads burn out, quit, become disgruntled, start drinking, and more.

Smart owners and managers are taking a more proactive and strategized approach to employee promotion. They know that retaining good employees is critical and that positioning employees into jobs for which they are well suited as well as professionally challenged, is a great way to encourage retention and benefit the company.

If-then promotion

“If-Then” strategies control just about all the software that we depend on every day and they can also provide a good framework for finding the best spots for your employees within your company.

The first application is pretty easy to summarize. A spot opens up. You give an employee a defined trial period. It’s important that you are clear on what your expectations are and what happens if the trial period doesn’t work out.

Even more important is that you provide feedback and guidance during the trial period. Don’t just release this employee into the wild and come back three months later with a failing grade. Accountability — yours and the employee’s — along with follow-up always help improve engagement and productivity. When other employees see your commitment to promoting from within and working with people in their new positions, it will have a ripple effect throughout your workforce.

Defining new positions

A second way to avoid the Peter Principle and grow your business is to use the If-Then strategy to create a new element within your organization. In this case, you or one of your employees sees potential in a new area or notices that something that should be done is not being accomplished; i.e. there is need for a new position within the organization.

You hand the responsibility to the employee with an If-Then caveat: If it works out great, if the results are less than expected, then you’ll probably shut it down. Again, coach the employee as he or she develops the new position. Later, when assessing the results, be careful not to make it personal. If the idea turns out not to be what you both hoped for, that’s fine. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Defining new positions is a great way to bolster employee engagement and strengthen your company. And right now, with online business strategies and social media opportunities being so abundant, you should be able to find some ways to incorporate this If-Then approach to promotion.

Important for this approach is to set a tone within your organization that makes your employees feel comfortable discussing new ideas. Some people have a natural negative reaction to new ideas; don’t be that person.

Final tip

If you’re looking for a way to encourage members of the Millennial Generation in your company — and you should be — this can work great. I know a bright young lady who works for a well-placed Manhattan executive recruiting firm who was just put in charge of her company’s social media marketing. There are probably similar opportunities in your organization. Keep your eyes open and talk to your employees.

Images:  “We follow the Peter Principle with promotions. If Peter likes you, you get promoted /


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Megan Wright

Megan Wright

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