Beating the Peter Principle

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If you watch the popular TV comedy The Office, you may find it hard to believe that Michael Scott–branch manager of paper company Dunder Mifflin in Scranton, PA–was ever competent at anything!  He appears to have no talent whatsoever for managing others.

He is the embodiment of the Peter Principle, first formulated in a 1969 book of the same name,  by Dr. Laurence Peter, who famously said: “In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.”  Employees will be promoted so long as they work competently; until they reach a position where they are no longer competent; and, there they stay, stuck, unable to earn further promotions.  Hello, Michael Scott!

In the real world of work, individuals are usually promoted because they are competent, and they are competent because they have a particular flair, or talent, or strength for performing certain job duties.  Their work is valued enough by their employers that they are often rewarded with a promotion to supervisory positions.

The Peter Principle then becomes active when a managerial position requires a set of skills that do not come easily or naturally to the person who has been promoted into it.

For example, I have worked with a good number of engineers who excelled at troubleshooting technical problems, especially when they were left alone to work in their own way at their own speed to analyze a particular problem and design a solution, often building the solution with special tools & equipment.

They are masters of the physical world of structures, machinery, and processes.  Then they are promoted into a managerial position where they are required to collaborate with others on committees and make decisions through long discussions at meetings that must be submitted up the hierarchy for approvals, involving frequent delays, postponements, or rejections.

In the meantime, they must resolve disputes between employees who disagree on how to proceed; or,  plan years in advance for potential scenarios; or, compete with their colleagues for scarce organizational resources; or, fight about money and budgets—none of which they have a genuine interest in or a knack for dealing with.

Why do they put up with it?  Perhaps, for the sake of a better compensation package, or the admiration of their peers, or the expectations of power, prestige, and status for someone their age; or, because, they don’t know what else to do.

What is true for engineers promoted to managers, is also true for front-line social service workers promoted to policy positions; or customer service reps promoted to supervisors; or teachers promoted to principals, and so on.  Often, I will hear from such people a desperate confession.  “I feel like an Impostor at work, pretending that I know what I’m doing.  I keep wondering when they’ll find out.  In the meantime, I try to fake it ‘til I make it, but I just dread Monday morning. “

This is a short term coping strategy that may backfire in the long term.  If someone is not motivated by their core job duties, their performance will degrade, so that when the inevitable downturns of an economy occur, they may be laid off when their performance is compared to others who are suited to managerial duties and feel motivated by their work.  Or, their level of job dissatisfaction fosters dis-ease that leads to physical illness, anxiety, depression, or any number of stress-related disorders.

Sure, we can learn managerial skills by taking courses; but, just because we know how to do something doesn’t mean we will do it.  For example, we can learn how to do conflict resolution because our job requires it. But if are natural inclination is to avoid conflicting situations or highly charged emotional encounters in favour of working alone on a task in a concentrated manner, then we will develop coping mechanisms to avoid using our newly acquired conflict resolution skills unless forced to do so.  Motivation is the key to performance on the job, whether we are managers, supervisors, or subordinates.

You don’t have live like an Impostor, pretending you are something you are not.  You can get a clear picture of your natural talents and motivations and learn how to leverage them into your career plans in a way that will recognize and reward you for what you do naturally and effortlessly, rather than for what you have to do in a job misfit.

Here at JobJoy, we are in the business of mapping your motivational pattern and matching it with the work you are best suited to do so that you can excel in your right work.

How to Inoculate against job flus and blues

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The current economic recession has resulted in millions of layoffs for workers across North America. On top of that, there is an H1N1 pandemic forcing millions to lay down from work for a week or more, jeopardizing good health, or even job security.

Learning to adapt to changing circumstances in life is a necessary skill. Being forced into such circumstances means letting go of situations that feel comfortable and predictable. Here are some examples of losses you may experience and what your thoughts might be about it.

Loss of the Familiar – “I felt secure in knowing what I was supposed to do each day.”

Loss of Structure & Clarity – “I liked my routine and felt comfortable with what was expected of me each day.”

Loss of a Hoped-for Future – “I thought I’d work here until I retired.”

Loss of Career Direction – “I knew where I fit into the big picture and what my options were.”

Loss of Influence – “My colleagues respected me, and they listened to my ideas.”

Loss of Friends – “My workplace was my second family.”

Loss of a Network – “I could count on them for personal and professional help.”

Loss of Knowledge & Expertise – “Staff and co-workers counted on me.”

Loss of Security – “I had a great compensation package.”

You can better adapt to changes like these by taking large doses of three Vitamin ‘A’s: Attitude, Aptitudes, and Action. They can help inoculate you from the negative consequences of job-related flus and blues.

Attitude

You have every reason to stay positive. You were able to learn your job and do well in it. So, it’s only a question of bringing your ability to learn and work hard to your new or next job.

You’re not starting from scratch. You have skills, knowledge, contacts–a vlaue proposition!  What other organizations would value your expertise? There are so many potential employers out there and you will likely find one to work with for many years.

And, once you have a new routine, do you think you’ll feel comfortable in your job? You’ve shown the ability to do good work and be rewarded for it, so you can apply that same ability in your next job. You were able to gain respect with people at your previous job, so why would your ability to establish and maintain friendships at your next workplace be any different?

Aptitude

There are over 60,000 jobs operating in the world of work, and you are suited to a dozen or more. You have experience, and dozens of managers are waiting for you to walk through the door and make their life easier by putting your unique set of talents, experience, and skills to work in helping them meet their organizations goals and objectives by solving problems, overcoming challenges, coping with impact issues, and dealing with pressure points that are acting as roadblocks to the attainment of those goals.

It is very likely that you will find a new career path at your next employer that’s even better than your last!

Action

You have a lot more experience now, so what kind of professional help do you need to position/package you for new and better opportunities?

Once you identify and define that next opportunity, you can communicate to your family and friends with clarity and confidence which organizations you are targeting.

When you are ready, you say goodbye to colleagues at your previous workplace, and invest some energy in friendships you want to maintain. Then draw on their goodwill because they WANT to help you, and they each know a lot of people.

Tell them specifically the kinds of jobs you are best suited for. They can refer you to people who can refer you to people until you get face-to-face with someone who will recognize and reward your talents and skill

Learn what simple and effective actions can help you break into the hierarchy of hiring and get job offers.

Transitions aren’t always easy but building up your immune system with these three Vitammin ‘A’s will help you adopt certain attitudes, aptitudes, and actions that can put you in a better place than the one you leave behind!