The Peter Principle: Why Incompetent People Get Promoted

Peter Principle

Have you ever looked at your boss and wondered “Who promoted you?” or “How have you not been fired by now?” If you have, take comfort in knowing you’re not alone — many of us have to deal with bosses that seem in over their heads.

The fact is, while your inept boss may drive you nuts, it may not even be his or her fault — or even the fault of your company for promoting your boss in the first place. Your unsuspecting employer had no idea that your boss would become a full-blown case of the Peter Principle in action.

So who is Peter and what did he do to make your boss so frustrating, you ask?

Well, Dr. Laurence J. Peter is a former professor who published a satirical book based around his theory that “In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence,” and that “In time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties.” Or, basically: We do a job well, we’re promoted. We do that job well, we’re promoted again. This happens in succession until we eventually rise to a position that we can no longer do well — or our level of incompetence. There, we either stagnate, revert back to a lower position, or are fired.

While ‘The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong,’ was originally meant to provide a sort of absurd-yet-true comic relief to the overworked, the practicality and pertinence of the Peter Principle was not lost on the working world, and the theory has since become a hotly debated human resources phenomenon.

7 Career Mistakes You Don’t Even Know You’re Making

career mistakes

Older workers have a harder time finding jobs and remain the demographic that once unemployed, stays out of work the longest. So hanging on to their jobs is of paramount importance. Yet here are 7 mistakes older workers unwittingly make:

1. They don’t think they need to pick up new skills while they are still employed. 
Jobs are not static anymore. The workplace is constantly evolving and they need to evolve along with it. If an employer offers training classes, some older workers wrongly believe the classes are intended for new company hires and don’t go. Instead. they should be taking as many of those earn-as-you-learn classes as possible.

Should they lose that job, training is hard to come by. Government training programs are geared toward those who are receiving public assistance. The goal is to get those folks off the public dole and into tax-generating jobs.

Retraining programs for college-educated professionals kind of don’t exist. That, or they do a terrific job of hiding themselves from the public. In fact, a “60 Minutes” segment featured a Connecticut program in 2012 for just one reason: It was such a rarity. In that program, college-educated professionals, who had lost their jobs when they were in their 40s or 50s and who had been out of work for a full 99 weeks, were given a crack at some internships that could lead to permanent jobs. These former six-figure earners were grateful for the foot in the door for one big reason: Most of their peers don’t even get that.

Take-away: If you have a chance to broaden your skills, jump at it.

2. They think community colleges are just for kids.
The community college system has borne the brunt of re-training the displaced older workforce. There’s a program that launched in 2010 called the Plus 50 Completion Strategy which basically helps post50 students complete their post-secondary degrees,and aims to give older workers the skills they need to get jobs in fields that are actually hiring — like health care. So far, the Plus 50 initiative has served about 24,000 students, which — not to diminish this rare drop in the bucket — is about how many out-of-work journalists I hear from in any given week.

Even if you are working, it still makes sense to keep an eye on what lies around the corner for you professionally. Many of these classes can be taken online. If you are in one of those careers that is contracting, use the “hospice time” to prepare for what you will be doing next. And a community college is a great place to start.

3. They don’t sufficiently value reverse mentoring.
Older employees have some amazing teachers right under their noses, says Robert L. Dilenschneider, an author and business leader who lectures older workers around the country about staying relevant. “Younger employees are fluent not just in the new technologies but in the best ways to deliver business messages and marketing in such technologies,” he said, and older workers should seek them out. When workers can learn from each other, the workplace is strengthened.

Mentoring is a two-way street and the older workers who embrace that — instead of thinking that their age and experience alone make them the only teachers in the room — improve their value to the company.

4. They wrongly assume that working beyond 66 will be their choice.
This is a silly assumption, especially with companies eager to reduce costs and an economy that can provide many eager-to-work millennials who can be paid less than an older, more-experienced worker. The reality is that there is a guillotine lurking in every future and no job is secure for a lifetime anymore. It’s another argument for making yourself as invaluable as possible to the company by being willing and able to do multiple tasks.

Most boomers have gotten over the notion that they will be able to retire as young as their parents did. Now the goal is to hang on to the jobs they have for as long as possible.

5. They inflict self-damage when they joke about being tech-illiterate.
Stereotypes are bad things. And one of the popular stereotypes is that older people resist technology. It hurts them in the workplace and can be the death knell if they are job-hunting. And never mind that it isn’t a universal truth.

It’s important not to fuel the myth. Telling your younger boss that you need your teenager to program your new phone isn’t a funny joke; it’s a check mark in your “not capable” column.

6. They don’t make time to socialize with the younger people in the office.
While you may not think you have oodles in common with your decades-younger coworkers, it’s important to secure your place in the office universe.

Go out to lunch when they invite you, make time for the occasional drink after work, be interested in their weekend plans. Aside from the fact that having office friends will actually make coming to work more fun, it’s also easier to lay off the people who nobody knows.

7. They don’t actually have an exit strategy or a retirement plan.
A Fidelity study reported that 48 percent of boomers won’t be able to afford basic expenses in retirement. It begs the question: What are you doing about it?

The simplest answer is to try and save more and look for ways you are wasting money now. Another thing to think about is your housing costs, which are pretty much everyone’s big ticket item. While you are still working is the perfect time to look into more affordable places to live or how you can adapt your home expenses to be more aligned with your reduced retirement income. -Ann Brenoff

You Can Love a Company, But Can a Company Love You Back?


company love

Since my first job selling television ad time in the early 17 century, I believed working for a company was about more than just cashing a paycheck. For me, there was always a very deep emotional connection to the place I worked. I was always proud to tell people where I worked and had great pride in the companies I worked for when I crossed the threshold every day.

It may sound naïve, but I was convinced the ‘company’ was this sentient entity that would always have my best interests at heart. I really did love it, and I believed it loved me back.

Years ago, when I had grown deeply disappointed in the company I worked for, my wife Heidi said something profound, “You can love a company, but a company can’t love you back.” She didn’t mean it as an indictment of all organizations, but as a realistic assessment that companies are collections of living breathing human beings. Some of the bosses you work for will live up to your standards and the values and direction of the corporation, but some will not. Things change, directions change. When they do, it’s time to decide if you can change to suit them, or if you need to move on.

I realized I did need to leave that company. I had been staying out of a sense of allegiance that wasn’t being reciprocated. I was going crazy watching my new leaders who I thought were headed in the wrong direction, and in turn I was driving those people crazy. It was bad for both of us.

Now, after a few decades spent consulting with some amazing organizations and leaders, what I’ve found is that while companies can’t love, great leaders and co-workers can. And those kind of positive relationships are fueled by deliberate, sustainable and vibrant corporate cultures.

The exceptional bosses who run these cultures care about their people, they challenge them with clear goals, cheer for their successes, and want them to be happy in their business and personal lives. When we find leaders like that, we typically go the extra mile and don’t want to disappoint. As the Clinton campaign might have quipped, “It’s about the boss, stupid.”

But then our boss gets promoted or transferred, and everything can change.

In its most recent research, The Gallup Organization estimates only one in 10 people truly have the potential to be a good manager. And yet in their paper “Why Great Managers are so rare,” the researchers estimate a manager accounts for at least 70 percent of employee engagement across an organization. Wow. That might explain why only 30 percent of U.S. employees are engaged. It’s as low as 13 percent worldwide.

So, what to do?

Obviously we must add value in our positions and be good at what we do. That’s a given. But what follows are three other simple things you can do to protect yourself from changes that will inevitably come in your company, so you can maintain a good attitude and positive career trajectory:

1. Surround yourself with good people.

People are the culture of a company, not the values or mission posted on a wall. Spend time with people who encourage you. Those who survive big changes often have several high-level mentors, who are not their bosses, who they can turn to for advice and who will have their back. They also choose a network of work friends as carefully as they chose their friends in their personal lives, and they nurture those relationships with time and effort.

2. Stay clear of bad bosses.

This may sound like officious advice, but it’s amazing how often individuals choose to go to work for a new boss without doing even the most basic of background checks. Bad leaders get into even the best of organizations, which means there are egotists and narcissists out there who feel lifted up when others fail, pit workers against each other, and relish in wielding unholy power. Before you accept a job with a new boss, ask a few friends who’ve worked with them about their reputation. Do they listen, do they care, do they develop others? Don’t think you can change a bad manager, you can’t.

3. Get some advice.

When things do get tough, or you are presented with an opportunity that looks promising, seek council. History’s most wise leaders all had councilors, and so should we. Seek the advice of people who have your best interests at heart: past leaders, mentors, and most of all friends and family. Trust their advice the most, just as I did with my wife Heidi. -Chester Elton

I’d love to read in the comments how you made it through a tough situation at work, or how you’ve tried to bullet proof your career against leadership changes.

The Power of an Apology



A few weeks ago I received an email from someone saying that they felt that I wronged them with something I did. I was faced with two options, defend my position and dig my heels into the ground or accept the fact that my actions unintentionally offended the other party, take responsibility and apologize for offending them, and right the wrong that I had committed. This is something that we’re all faced with every now and then.

Through our lifetime there have been, and will be many more, instances where our actions unintentionally hurt someone else’s feelings. Our actions were so non-deliberate that we are completely blindsided when someone approaches us with a claim that we did something wrong to them.

The easiest reaction, and often our initial reaction, is to become defensive and either reject the other person’s claim as an over-reaction or returning their message with a “You completely misunderstood me.” or “You’re completely wrong!”. By deflecting the blame back onto the other person, we negate their feelings and blame them for the way that they feel. This rarely defuses the situation and more commonly escalates the matter into a full out argument and leaves both parties feeling worse about the situation.

We need to realize that what the other person is doing is not launching a personal attack at us, but instead he/she is expressing the way that they felt as a result of something that we did. How can you argue the way a person feels? Feelings are emotions and emotions are not always logical, although in this particular case they were logical.

By arguing with the way a person feels you’re attaching YOUR logic, or sometimes stubbornness, to THEIR feelings – that’s a recipe for disaster. YOU are not THEM and THEY are not YOU. Put in the exact same situation chances are that you both would react in very different ways. Usually neither of those ways are wrong or right, they’re just coming from two different people who lived different lives, experienced different things, and therefor have different perspectives on day to day events and interactions.

Getting back to my situation from the other week, I took the second stance. I sought first to understand their perspective before trying to get them to understand mine (Thank you Stephen Covey!). After listening to his point of view, I understood how my actions unintentionally wronged him. I took responsibility for my actions, apologized for the harm that I caused him, explained my reasoning and noble intentions, apologized again, and I followed through on my commitment to right the wrong.

A few weeks later we went out for coffee, and developed not only a personal friendship, but also found ways to help each other grow from a business standpoint.

Rather than gaining an enemy I made a powerful new friend and business ally.

Here are my two favorite books on the topics of effective communication, integrity, and interpersonal relationships:

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie –

Steven Tulman

Employees Quit Management, Not the Company

I quit

I have the opportunity to do a lot of Consulting for Companies – Big and Small Companies, Companies in several different industries, Newer Companies and Established “Dinosaur” Companies, etc. The point is, I have had the privilege of Consulting for just about every type of business there is out on the market. And there is almost always the same problem – companies are experiencing higher turnover than they should – generally speaking of course.

Cost of Turnover

The obvious immediate problem is the cost of replacing an employee. Dun & Bradstreet have a great article where they reference a study done by Institute forResearch on Labor and Employment at UC, Berkley. The average cost of replacing an employee is about 1.5 times their Salary. For instance, if you are filling a $60,000.00 position, with all costs incurred, it will cost your company around $90,000.00.

Instability for Customers and other Employees

When you have employees rotating in and out, and customers dealing with new people on a semi-regular basis, regardless of the viability of the company it gives the appearance of instability and a company that employees don’t even like. Turnover can be a huge cancer to your employees as well, as employees have to unexpectedly take on extra responsibilities or duties that they do not have the skill set for, yet are held accountable for their errors.

Cause of Abnormal Turnover

In almost every case, when an employee leaves a company voluntarily, it is Managements fault. Yes, there are the proverbial “nails in the coffin” which Management loves to deflect to – such as “they got offered more money”, “their work load is easier over there”, and on and on. But if Management was doing their job correctly, in almost every case none of these reasons would be enough to make them want to move to a different company.

How to Keep Low Retention

Every company is different, but these principles stay the same. Use these ideas and suggestions, but also build off of them and create custom policies that fit your company, your employees, and your companies “personality”.

  1. ALWAYS DO EXIT INTERVIEWS!!! Unless the employee is extremely hostile, make sure an immediate exit interview is done with employees that tender resignations to understand why they are leaving. And listen – do not try and persuade them that they are wrong. Just listen. For instance, even though you may know that a particular action is not happening, there may be an issue somewhere in the company where there is a “perception” problem which are making employees unhappy that needs addressed.
  2. Work Atmosphere – Work Hard, Play Hard. Create a fun atmosphere at work. Never before, especially in the US, have we demanded more productivity out our employees since we are competing in a Global Economy now. And guess what, it is tough on everyone and will run you into the ground if you let it. This is a great time to get ideas from employees – game room, relaxation room, fun “brainstorming” sessions (I will do a separate article on this at another time), daily competitions for particular KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators – Sales, Revenue, Net Profit, Calls, etc). I am a big believer in spiff’s for winning a competition or if an employee does something particularly outstanding) – whether it is a small gift card, cash, company gear – use your imagination.
  3. Knock Down The Wall Between Mid-Management and the “C” Level – One of the biggest problems are C Level Executives not knowing about problems. I am not letting C Level Exec’s off of the hook, as even though they have Managers to handle the day to day Operations, C Level Exec’s need to be “keyed” in on what is going on, and make sure that employees can confidentially come to you with an issue to be addressed before it becomes a bigger problem. But it is amazing how good some Mid-Management get at putting up a wall where if there is an issue, that employees find it difficult, if not impossible, to voice a concern that may need to be addressed.

This is just a start, and meant to keep you aware of the high cost of turnover and to be constantly improving the company to make people want to stay. No companies have zero turnover, but I have Consulted for companies with both high turnover and low turnover. For companies with a high turnover problem, if it is handled aggressively and correctly, you can turn around extremely fast. – Jacob Franklin

7 Management Traits That Will Make All Your Employees Stay


A few days ago, I published an article titled, “7 Management Traits That Will Make All Your Employees Quit.” Now it is time to look at the other side of the coin. The previous column sparked a tremendous conversation surrounding leadership. Several commentators made the point that they don’t think bad leaders are capable of change. I’m not so sure about that. I think people can evolve professionally and as a leader, just like they do elsewhere in life. Consider this quote from, Vince Lombardi, the legendary football coach of the Green Bay Packers, “leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.” I believe that with some effort put forth everyone can improve their leadership skills. That said, here are some managerial traits that good leaders exhibit that I think will encourage employees to stick around for the long haul.

Be Supportive

A good manager gives his/her employees the tools they need to be successful. A bad manager assigns tasks with little or no direction, and then becomes upset when the employee doesn’t meet the expectation. Remember the Seinfeld episode where George doesn’t hear his boss’ instructions, but he is too afraid of what his boss might do if he asks for clarification? He spends the whole week pretending to know what to do. Two words come to mind here, lost productivity. Be approachable so your employees feel they can ask questions.

Understand and Harness the Power of Praise

Positive reinforcement is one of the most effective tools for a person in a leadership role. One of the biggest complaints from people that hate their jobs is they never receive any credit for a job well done. If you want your employees to like working for you and to perform their best, try giving them an atta a boy every once in a while when they do well. Nobody likes to work in a thankless environment.

Lead By Example

If you want your employees to take you seriously you must lead by example. If they question your work ethic, integrity, or skill to get the job done, then they are far less likely to do their best work themselves. As a leader you need to be blazing the path for success. If you are one of those managers that comes in late and leaves early, then you might want to rethink the example you are setting for your employees.

Show Appreciation by Hosting Some Team Building Events

Too many companies have cut out the Christmas party. Even if you don’t do a Christmas party, you should put on some events throughout the year to show appreciation and increase morale. If there are budgetary concerns just do something simple. My company has an employee pot luck once every couple of months. Employees bring in dishes from home and then management buys the rest at a local grocery store. It is far from extravagant but the employees really enjoy it. It is a great way for the employees to get to know one another and feel a sense of community at the work place.

Listen to Your Employees

Make sure your employees voices are heard. In order to foster an environment of innovation, management must be open to their employees ideas. Nothing stifles progress more than shooting down your employees every idea. Pretty soon they will not even offer them. This will lead to stagnation within your company. Also, consider distributing an anonymous employee satisfaction survey. This will measure the temperature of your employees. If there are action items that need to be addressed they can be identified and action can be taken to improve the work environment. Companies that don’t survey their employees are running the risk of never knowing what the problems are within the company. Thus, they have no way of fixing them.

Be Generous by Offering Incentives for Longevity

Studies show that companies that offer incentives for longevity have a greater retention rate. Whether it is a raise, bonus, additional time off, a better title, or a combination of the aforementioned, incentives for long tenure should be a part of your employee retention strategy.

Be Authoritative

Just like in my previous article when I discussed how nobody likes a micromanaging jerk, they don’t like a wimpy pushover for a boss either. You can be authoritative; and, still go about it with integrity and respect. Your employees need to know that there is someone very competent at the helm. I guarantee you that Lombardi’s players knew who the boss was, and they respected him for the hard work he put in. 

Well there you have it. Last time, many of you said that you learned the most from a negative experience on what not to do. Can we learn just as much from a top performing manager as we can from the worst one? I also heard from a lot of you that were like me, and; had an experience with a bad boss. Have you had an experience with a good boss that has helped you develop your own management style? If so, what attributes did they exemplify?

“Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase it, we can catch excellence.” Vince Lombardi. – John White

Here’s What Really Motivates Your Employees (It’s Not What You Think)

Dangling a carrot

In Daniel Pink’s book Drive, the underlying message is that a leader can provide a motivating environment but can’t motivate his or her employees; motivation comes from within each individual.

This goes entirely against the common belief that given more carrots, an employee will be motivated to behave in ways that will increase the success of a company. Yet, time and again, leaders have found that providing more money and better benefits, extrinsic motivators, only provides a short-term effect on behavior. Extrinsic motivators are not sustainable.

In yesterday’s article Top 5 Leadership Mistakes, one of them was misunderstanding motivation.

I outlined the three attributes that, when implemented effectively within the organization, can increase the long-term behavioral changes the leader is looking to instill in the organization.

And what can a company expect from its employees when they provide an environment that provides for autonomy, mastery, and purpose?

An academic study by Richard Ryan and Edward Deci in 2000 issue of American Psychologist showed that focusing on internal motivators can lead to higher self-esteem and self-actualization, while a focus on external motivators, on average, leads to lower self-esteem and self-actualization.

In turn, employees driven by internal motivators demonstrated a greater level of persistence, creativity, energy, and well being, which increased the performance level of those employees.

So if, in fact, employee performance increases with intrinsic motivators, why aren’t more companies creating and implementing a plan to transition to a culture of autonomy, mastery and purpose? Because it is not easy! It is a massive shift in long-term beliefs and requires both employer and employees to change their mindset as well as the way they work.

What are the critical success factors to transitioning your workplace to an intrinsically motivated organization? They are the three C’s:

  1. Creativity: Be able to devise innovative ways of working outside the traditional mode. Bring in outside assistance if you don’t find you are making the progress you desire.
  2. Communication: Changes to the work process need to be communicated to all employees via multiple methods. Communication should be ongoing and frequent and provide employees with the opportunity to have their questions answered.
  3. Change Management: Demonstrate how the changes will positively affect employees, create methods to identify employees who may be struggling with the changes, and have resources available to help them adjust.

Beth Armknecht Miller, CMC

Author: Are You Talent Obsessed?, Leadership Development Advisor, Vistage Chair, Speaker, Executive Coach

Want to play and learn along side of Special Ops like the Navy SEALS?

Watch this video and find out!

The Jenks Group, Inc., a Solana Beach based firm has launched their newest program,  Strategic Operations Skills Training (S.O.S.T.) that brings Special Forces such as the Navy Seals, CEO’s and their Executive Teams together through mission critical exercises including uniforms, gear, guns and simmunitions.

S.O.S.T. can be a rigorous two or three-day program. In the end, CEO’s and their executive teams come out the other side learning how to take chaos, which exists in all organizations, and make it organized chaos, such like the Navy Seals do when they are on a mission.

It is Hyper Realistic ™, down to hostiles, loud noises and smoke. In other words it’s not your grandmother’s team building session. And it is done right alongside the best team in the world, the Navy Seals. After each mission CEO’s and their team are debriefed on what they learned in combat and how that hard skill is transferred into their workplace specifically on carrying out their Strategic Plans.

This program is a win/win because it is employing veterans in a meaningful way, using their amazing skills and intelligence to help CEO’s positively affect their bottom-line.

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