According to the Peter Principle, in “an organizational hierarchy, every employee will rise or get promoted to his or her level of incompetence.” (Peter, 1969). And too often, when we look at organizations, we see managers who are floundering, like fish out of water, but unable to understand where they went wrong.
Find your own modus of operation
So, when you find that a promoted staff member seems to be out of their depth, do not despair. There are quite a few ways for them to regain balance, and to become the manager that you hoped for, and here are some tips:
- Firstly, people who leverage their strengths at work, are more engaged and happy at work. Furthermore they inject the organization with higher morale, increased productivity and have a low employee turnover. According to the VIA institute, research also indicates that individuals who use their character strengths, lead happier, more satisfying lives. Are you able to leverage your personal strengths in this new role?
- Secondly, find your own modus of operation; see what works for you. If at first you don’t succeed, keep trying! Making mistakes is human, but admitting you have done so, and learning from those mistakes will make you a stronger, more capable and competent manager.
- Thirdly, respect your employees, and gain their trust. As a part of management, you need to know what your own responsibilities are, and which responsibilities need to be delegated – and to whom. By trusting your employees, you will help them feel valued, and enable them to have a sense of belonging and commitment to the organization.
I spoke about this with Doortje van Unen, Deputy Director of The Amsterdam Economic Board. After telling me she was ‘no expert’ despite the years of experience she has had in a number of leading functions in organizations, she explained the principle further. Peters says the same in his book: “Minion is pleasant and agreeable… his job was not to make policy, so he had no reason to argue with his superiors…[years later Minion was promoted]… and continued to agree with everyone…” (Peters, 2011). Doing what you have done before just doesn’t work, and that is due to the fact that the new role often requires a combination of other skills, or what you could call untapped potential.
Representing the team now
One of the advantages of being a regular employee, explains van Unen, is that you get to say whatever you feel like, about anything at all. Especially in the ‘polder’ (consensus decision making) model, it is not at all disrespectful to criticize your company’s management, the processes or anything else that you see around you. On the contrary, the employee who speaks out and has something valuable to contribute is considered someone worth listening to.
However, that changes slightly when this employee joins the higher levels of the organization. In their different position, these same people have to think about what they say, as they are now representatives of the company. As such, how they say things is very important. As a manager, you have to consider the greater good – the good of the company.
Position gives Perception
Another way to view this is to see that when an employee is promoted, their peers see them differently. You are no longer “one of the guys.” Now you are the decision maker and others immediately see you as such. It can be a lonely and frustrating experience when you were used to having your team as a sounding board. After you change position, you may need to make some tough decisions on your own and sometimes even about your former colleagues.
People should have doubts
Finally, it’s not always easy to deal with transition on your own– even when it’s a good change, such as a promotion. It’s normal to have doubts, says van Unen, but it’s also important to have someone to discuss those doubts with, to help mirror you, and gain perspective. ‘Who might that person be,’ I ask her innocently? ‘A coach, for example,’ she replies, with a smile.
What does it all boil down to? People need to learn more about themselves – what they are capable of – and this can be done through self-reflection – the ability to communicate with our self.
Peter, Laurence J., and Raymond Hull. The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong. New York: HarperBusiness Publishers, 2011.