How Coaching Can Help Overcome Peter Principle

According to Gallup, 80% of employees are not engaged in the workplace globally. This figure varies between 8% and 35% based on the location and industry. There are many potential reasons for this level of apathy. However, according to this SHRM report one fact that stands out is that only 29% of employees consider themselves happy with current growth opportunities available in their organization. Furthermore, according to this Korn Ferry survey 33% of professionals cite “Boredom” as their top reason to leave their current job.

In view of these statistics, a robust career progression plan could be one of the best strategies for employee engagement & retention. At least in theory it should be. However, in practice this is not really the case. Many companies promote employees for the wrong reasons. Worse, many well-deserving employees find themselves stuck in the wrong position.

One of the reasons for this is because employees are promoted according to their current skills and performance rather than the skills and aptitude required for the next position. Laurence J. Peter introduced The Peter Principle in 1969, but it still as relevant today. Peter Principle states that “every employee tends to rise to his/her level of incompetence”.

What that means is that if someone is good at their job, they would be promoted to the next role which may require different skills. And if they are good at the new job, they will be promoted again to a higher position. But if the employee does not have the required skills for this new position, they will be incompetent in this position and not be promoted again. The good news is that Peter Principle can be avoided with some effort and time.

Every promotion entails new tasks, responsibilities, and perspectives. It’s not fair to assume that someone will automatically have the skills needed to excel in their new position. In many cases, they may not even be aware of what challenges lie ahead of them. The option then is to let go of them, wait for them to resign, demote them…or Coach them. Many such employees can acquire the required skills and be competent if given a fair chance and adequate support.

Coaching to Overcome the Peter Principle

Here some additional thoughts:

  • Employee engagement looks different for different people. Not everyone is looking for a promotion. In fact, another study states that 37% of employees prioritize “Recognition” as a motivating factor.
  • Before promoting an employee understand how they feel about stepping up. Explore what resources would they need to be successful in the new position.
  • Empower & enable employees to chart their development path. This may also depend on the intrinsic motivating factors particular to the employee and their demographic. According to another Gallup survey, 87% of Millennials consider professional development or career growth opportunities as very important.
  • Coaching is key to overcome the hurdles posited by the Peter Principle. Coaching the employee through their transition and helping them establish themselves in their new role can help break this self-perpetuating cycle. Coaching can provide support on an employee’s terms, and thereby facilitate deeper learning.

Before giving up on an employee, they should be given an opportunity to be coached, to learn and grow. Coaching can make a significant difference.  It is in the interests of the organization to re-train and retain this precious human resource. Good leadership may be all that they need to thrive.