Throughout the corporate world we have seen examples of the Peter Principle in practice, whereby people rise above their level of competency; people who make a mockery of their job and discredit their company and themselves in the process. Perhaps they were promoted because nobody else wanted the job or perhaps they were simply selected based on seniority; maybe they politicked for the job and were rewarded not for what they had accomplished but their ability to kiss the backside of someone else in authority, aka "cronyism". Regardless, they have risen above their ability to effectively perform the job they were assigned. In many cases, the job in question is just a pit stop in the road to the top, but more often than not, they covet the position they have acquired and either perform it with an iron fist or just let the work go to pieces (or both). This naturally raises the ire of subordinates and others more qualified to perform the work. It also becomes rather obvious to customers and vendors who have to deal with the person. Naturally, they scratch their head in bewilderment as to why this person was selected for promotion.
We also see this phenomenon in nonprofit organizations where people are seeking social stature as opposed to performing anything of merit, be it a homeowner association, a sports club, a professional trade society, a civic organization or whatever. Those who tend to covet titles in such groups normally suffer from low self-esteem as they never accomplished anything of substance in their professional lives and now crave recognition. Even in the most rudimentary 501(c) organization, they fail to grasp it is a legal entity in the eyes of the state which must conform to certain legalities. Failure to execute specific rules and regulations can easily lead to lawsuits and disaster.
To the individual, promotion is a confirmation of his abilities. If he is a poor performer, his advancement sends a dangerous message that his work meets with the approval of others. Naturally, the person will not change and continue in his faulty ways. If his progression is arrested though, he will question why. Hopefully, he will receive some coaching along the way before this happens which is one reason why I'm a big proponent of Employee Performance Evaluations (click for a free COPY). Such reviews are just as pertinent in a nonprofit organization as they are in the corporate world. Without such reviews or coaching, and the person is rejected, he is blindsided and his ego is shattered.
To assure the right people are selected for key posts, political machines are often devised thereby compromising the harmony of an organization. You either play ball with the good old boys in charge or forget about progressing through the organization. Sadly, you find this in both the corporate and nonprofit world. It's distasteful and ultimately impedes the organization's effectiveness. Whenever the wrong person is put into a position of authority, the systems of the organization falter, productivity slips, the moral values of the business are put into question, and harmony is disrupted. Basically, it's a "lose-lose" situation that can be difficult to rectify.
Aside from the political aspect, I am at a loss as to why people believe they should be elevated, particularly if they have not demonstrated they possess the skills or fortitude necessary to successfully perform the work. Perhaps it is a sense of entitlement, that it's "their turn" to be promoted. Such a mindset is invalid and should be rebuked as nobody is entitled to a position based on "turns"; it's ludicrous. People should be selected for promotion based strictly on qualifications and availability. In situations where people are selected out of desperation, it should be made clear to them that retaining their job and any possible advancement in the future depends on their ability to successfully execute their job and prepare for the next. The lack of counseling and instruction in this regard does them a disservice. Likewise, the failure to heed the advice does the organization a disservice.
Nonprofit organizations are particularly susceptible to promoting people through the ranks without merit. Such organizations today are struggling for members and consequently beg people to take positions out of desperation. The group, therefore, shouldn't be surprised when such people accomplish nothing. Instead of pleading with people to take a volunteer job, perhaps it is time to merge with another like-minded organization, change your approach to membership, curtail what you are trying to accomplish, or call it a day.
Part of the problem is the myth that everybody must win, that nobody loses, which is something we have been fostering in our youth over the last few decades. This is just plain fallacious. Just about every aspect of life involves instances of winners and losers with the lesson being: if you want something, you must earn it. Only then will you value it as opposed to having it dropped in your lap without lifting a finger.
So, why do we reward incompetence? Maybe it's because we don't want to hurt someone's feelings; maybe we want to throw someone a bone as a political gesture; maybe it's someone's "turn"; or maybe we simply do not have anyone else to do the job right now. Regardless, the person has received it for all the wrong reasons. Hopefully, they will rise to the occasion and do a competent job. Unfortunately, most do not and damage the organization, not to mention earning the ire and resentment of others. Remember this: for every person who takes a job they have no intention of performing, somebody else must compensate and perform the duty.
Rewarding incompetence is one of the most common management snafus that has cursed companies of all sizes and shapes for years. Longevity of a problem doesn't make it right, it just means people do not want to deal with it, hoping instead it will go away on its own which, of course, never does. The message must be made clear to all involved, promotions must be earned. In desperate situations where people are forced into positions they are not qualified, they must be coached properly, but if they fail to assume their duties and responsibilities, or even try to put forth an honest effort, it must be made vividly clear their journey upward in the corporate hierarchy will come to a screeching halt. Advancing does a disservice to the company, the people, and the individual. It is just plain bad business.
Keep the Faith!
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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Copyright © 2012 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.