What is the Peter Principle?

Peter Principle definition

The Peter Principle, commonly worded as people “rising to the level of their incompetence,” suggests that organisations promoting on merit will eventually elevate members beyond their capabilities. The term and concept originated with Laurence J Peter and Raymond Hull in a 1969 book called The Peter Principle.

The theory suggests that employees will eventually be promoted for performing their jobs competently until they reach a level where they no longer have the skills to perform the responsibilities required by their position. Once they have reached this position they remain stuck in a kind of limbo because they cannot progress any further, but equally are able to cover up their incompetence from more senior managers.

The Peter Principle may be felt more acutely in technical industries where natural progression takes skilled employees into managerial positions, even though the reasons for their competence may be technical prowess rather than generalised business/managerial skills.

Certain actions can mitigate the effects of the Peter Principle, such as the up or out policy that requires employees to be promoted within a certain amount of time or be forced to leave the organisation. Another solution is requiring employees to prove competence at a higher level before they are eligible for promotion.