The Peter, Paul & Mary Principle

I was chatting to a friend the other day about someone they work with.  He was finding the colleague’s behaviour unbelievable, to the point where he realised that they must just be entirely out of their depth; totally incapable of functioning in the job in which they’d been given.

The concept of being promoted to your point of incompetence is known as the Peter Principle – the idea is that someone is performing really well so Management decides that they should get a promotion. Which is fine if the new job is similar to the previous one,  but if the new job needs a different set of skills and attributes there’s a chance that ‘Peter’ may not be suitable for it, and will then fail. I believe that the idea came out of retail banking, where excellent sales people were suddenly promoted to being managers – no longer selling, but instead managing budgets and people.

Once the Peter Principle is reached then it’s a problem that has to be managed.  The right thing to do is for the boss to work with ‘Peter’ – either to help him develop the new set of skills or attributes (if that’s possible & desirable), or to help him resume his old role in the least painful way. But that’s really hard work, so what sometimes happens is that Peter’s boss looks for the easy way out – i.e. he recommends ‘Peter’ for another promotion, so that he becomes someone else’s problem. Of course this just compounds the problem for poor old ‘Peter’.  This concatenation of issues needs it’s own name, so we came up with the ‘Peter, Paul & Mary Principle’, named after the 1960’s folk trio who brought us tracks such as Leaving on a Jet Plane and Puff the Magic Dragon –

The aforementioned colleague seems so far out of their depth that they now have a new name – ‘Mary’.

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