Much like death, taxes, and getting a bit of popcorn stuck in your teeth, having an incompetent boss feels like one of those inescapable human experiences. The feeling that all bosses are incompetent tools even has a name: the Peter Principle, as coined by Dr. Laurence J. Peter. The Peter Principle posits that people get picked for promotion until their promise peters out and their position puzzles them, i.e. you get stuck in the job you suck at. That's amazing insight for a scholar who named his theory of incompetence after himself.
Warner Bros. Pictures
The reason for this flawed system is that businesses use the wrong metrics to reward their workers. When looking to promote someone, higher-ups tend to pick their best employees, i.e the ones who are great at their current job, instead of trying to figure out which employee would be the best at the job they'd be promoted to. After all, just because you're the best rodeo clown on the circuit doesn't mean you're cut out to be Head Rodeo Clown and organize the Barrel Safety seminars.
Of course, the notion of your bosses always rising "to their level of incompetence" has been more of a universal intuition than a well-tested theory, but that has changed now. Researchers have published a study offering empirical evidence that the Peter Principle is true by examining hard data of sales teams and their managers from 214 different firms (because it's easy to determine competency in a field in which your entire worth is ruthlessly derived from how many dictionaries you can sell per minute). Data showed that when ranking each member in a sales team, the chances of them getting a promotion rose by a massive 15 percent per rank. However, when promoted, that same ranking comes with an incremental 7.5 percent decrease in productivity to all of the new manager's subordinates. So quite ironically, the better someone was at making sales, the worse they were at selling their employees on them being a good manager.
20th Century Fox
Fortunately, there are already several solutions to eliminate these Peter Principle principles. For example, if you have someone who's amazing at their job, why not bribe them into staying in that job forever, i.e. offer them more pay and perks instead of a promotion? Another strategy is to create "dual" or multiple career ladders, whereby there are non-managerial positions to pursue that are of equal position and prestige. It's almost like an RPG where you're allowed to pick a prestige class for your graphic design-o-mancer instead of having to reluctantly multiclass into a bossbarian.
Some companies, like Microsoft, are already testing these alternative performance reward schemes out with great success. All it takes to implement is a slight shift in the universal business mentality in which it no longer makes sense to just turn the star quarterback into the coach every time. But until that happens, get ready to keep getting shouted at by meatheads who are out of their depth!
For much shorter ramblings and his personal recipes for toilet wine, do follow Cedric on Twitter.
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