Are you good at it? Good boy! And now I’ll change your job! That is: Peters law

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Are you good at it? Good boy! And now I’ll change your job! That is: Peters law

Are you good at it? Good boy! And now I’ll change your job! That is: Peters law

It occurs quite often in managerial literature, for example in Corporate Rebels by Joost Minnaar and Pim de Morree, to cross the principle of Dr. Lawrence Peter. It is a ‘law’ that seems to confirm an impression we have always had: as soon as you learn to do something well, they change your job, or rather, to put it with Peter, “in organizations, people are promoted up to their level of incompetence “.

But then: Is competence really rewarded in organizations?

In the dynamics of career promotion or selection of people or the choice of team members we have, but you too, noticed a constant: the selection often points towards those who have a more widespread and articulated competence than those who have a more specialist and profound.

In reality, organizations, especially larger or transforming ones, continually seek to maximize the managerial potential of resources and, a long-term view of the role of the person, tend to favor widespread experiences and skills over specializations, at least for tasks and positions of responsibility. It is a bit as if the ability to project oneself beyond one’s own skills / limits and to be able to face the challenge of the new position or the next change is favored.

Unfortunately, this approach has also become practice in more technical and specialized fields, to the point that the enamel of the ancient specialist technical training courses has faded in favor of a managerial all-rounder.

Stop, stop, don’t go wild! “Here I always thought”, “He says it himself”, etc. etc..

If you think about it, Peter’s law has a fairly obvious ‘systemic’ scalar equivalent. Take the example of a sector that is dear to me, that of engineering where companies and organizations, in order to cope with growth, feel more protected by focusing on managerial talent than technical ones and go to the point of outsourcing specialist technical skills, in order to be able to afford the reassuring managerial control of the business. In this way, specialized technical talent tends to remain the prerogative of small professional companies and larger companies end up becoming more and more generalist. Here, too, the process continues until incompetence in the sector is reached, which corresponds to the company that does everything without knowing how to do anything directly. In general, this is true for all most of the growing companies and, in some way, explains the obsession with the increasingly reduced capacity for innovation of the giants.

In a previous post we made a reflection on power in organizations. Erhard Friedberg tells us that ‘power is a function of the ability one has to be paid the highest price for what the other asks for’. Competence is therefore a fundamental element in the dimensioning of power, the specialist has a well-defined and specific power. And Peter’s principle focuses precisely on this: one is led to give up the power of competence to acquire that of management.

But… how can this trend be reversed?

There are several ways to overcome this situation of progressive managerial growth and technical impoverishment. On the one hand, and in the extreme, if management is made maximally predictable and completely procedural, competence can re-emerge as an element of differentiation. And this is the reason why the scrum works in a monothematic domain like that of software programming: the rules of the management game are simple, clear, few and shared. What matters is the content, the result the customer wants to achieve.

In #ilteamgiusto, looking at things from the point of view of the team, we too explore the theme of competence and that of the rules of the game, which allow a normalization of management, so as to keep the focus on the objective of the task.

When innovation, the ability to adapt and knowledge are characteristics that all corporate strategies recognize as indispensable because they are necessary for the survival and transformation of an organization, it is necessary to review the reward and promotion logic by creating badging criteria that allow to enhance the competence with all its nuances. This can take place in parallel, or even independently, from the hierarchical organization or from the managerial or contractual level. In other words, the creation of a badging system, community of practice (Spotify chapters, for example) or knowledge communities must correspond to concrete and tangible acknowledgments, which are reflected in the quality of the training and career path.

Therefore, splitting career paths clearly, between managerial and technical / professional paths, can be a very practical way to avoid making technicians become the tools of a toolbox from which project managers, project leaders, managers draw.

For the good of the organization, the paths must coexist, be reasonably waterproof, to make it clear that a professional path is as good as a technical one and that the two paths are not interchangeable: the skills of one and the other cannot be improvised!

This is a great organizational challenge, which few companies have been able to overcome. Let’s always try!

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