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Olivier Thereaux

The Peter Principle: Why Most Managers Suck

One of my colleage today discovered the Peter Principle, whereby “in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence”. Tongue in cheek, he asked on our team mailing-list whether our company suffered from it.

My answer: of course we are – any company with a hierarchy will be. The main reason is that “promotion” in our industrial society, generally means “You’re really good and experienced at your job? Now stop doing it and start managing a bunch of people”.

And the fact is, most people are really, really bad managers. A manager should be leading by building trust and a culture of excellence/results/you-name-it, mentoring, empowering and setting clear objectives. Instead, when put in such a position, most will fail to build trust – instead they put process over people, waver on objectives, micromanage and bully. Management is hard. Management is the art of losing control.

And if you’re not doing too badly at the middle-management role, wait until you’re promoted to an executive role with the massive responsibilities it involves and the strategic leadership it demands…

Don’t like the sound of this?

  1. Build a team culture where promotion does not necessarily equate management, but “here is a new challenge for you”,
  2. mitigate the negative effects of hierarchy by adopting a less-hierarchical structure and Agile, Iterative and Incremental processes.
  3. …or stay small.

I was once chatting with the architect in a small-ish (20 people) tech company. Asked about the size and structure of their group, he told me “Everybody codes here, except for the accountant and the CEO. The latter used to code, but he was so bad at it, we made him in charge of everything else”.

2 Responses to “The Peter Principle: Why Most Managers Suck”

  1. [...] CEO. The latter used to code, but he was so bad at it, we made him in charge of everything else” http://olivier.thereaux.net/2010/06/30/why-managers-suck/ Peter Principle. The Peter Principle is a special case of a ubiquitous observation: anything that [...]

  2. Ramanan says:

    Quite true.Till the advent of management consultants-small caps intentional,for they are the problem and provide with an impossible solution they know they can not implement, We as Mangers knew our job and if some one finds it difficult we guide them and if they play truant we do the job and sack them.No bull shit about motivation,tell me what more motivation do you need than getting paid a salary?
    In IT funniest department is HR.The guys who are recruited hardly know more than stacking application after getting the required candidates’ profile from the project manger( they have off shore/ on shore /above shore) keep sending emails to their friends asking them to let their friends apply for the post.For recruiting a Soft ware engineer ,project manager,Lead,Admin Manager,and a HR man goes out of station where they have shortlisted two candidates.This is a real case in a MNC
    I have seen a HR executive who was barely good enough to understand what the job is about in a prestigious institution in India, where I was professor emeritus. was HR executive in my son’s office. That gentleman was my my student barely 4 months back No further in puts were given to him
    .I asked him whether he knew his job content.He was candid in stating that he collects applications and ask project people along with him to recruit.
    What sort of crazy recruitment of personnel appointment?.
    You might not believe it -a relative of mine got the job in middle management in call center MNC with out even meeting the recruitment people of the organization! He met them at the time of joining -all interviews(3) were done on phone!
    Another crazy thing is induction where those being inducted barely listen and they normally sleep off.Ican go on.
    ( I retired as GM in private sector)

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