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The Peter Principle

The rise to a level of incompetence

September 30, 2023 - 456 words - 3 mins Found a typo? Edit me
management leadership


The Peter principle states that a person who is competent at their job will earn a promotion to a position that requires different skills. If the promoted person lacks the skills required for the new role, they will be incompetent at the new level, and will not be promoted again.

If the person is competent in the new role, they will be promoted again and will continue to be promoted until reaching a level at which they are incompetent. Being incompetent, the individual will not qualify for promotion again, and so will remain stuck at this final placement or Peter’s plateau.

There are incentives at play. People work hard to reach a particular position or salary. Once they achieve that, some get lazy. Once people lose passion, they stop learning. They might fail to keep up with new developments, which might lead to poor work quality. To protect their comfort zone, they challenge any new idea or person that could make their life unconformable. Incompetent employees are often unhappy.

Have you experienced the Peter Principle?

I’ve seen this several times during my 10-year career, working in different companies with people in various departments at different levels. It’s indeed more dangerous than it seems because it can kill the spirit of a healthy environment and company.

Creating awareness about this can help you to be cautious to avoid this from happening to yourself, or at least trigger warnings when you feel this might be happening to you.

What can you do about it?

If you can recognize this situation within your company, I recommend helping to create awareness about it. Talk to each other. If you feel you can’t, that’s a symptom of a unhealthy working environment, and that’s something more significant to deal with.

If you are the one experiencing this in “first person,” I would recommend you: