Peter Principle

Who is Peter?

Well, the Peter Principle was discovered, propounded and popularized in 1969 by Dr. Laurence J. Peter, a noted counselor and social psychologist. It became a catch phrase in modern management school of thought and contributed a lot to the understanding of human behavior and organizational problems, including bureaucratic anomalies. Thus, the Peter Principle is also a very useful concept in public administration school of thought.

The basic premise of the Peter Principle is: in a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence and inutility! It is a commentary on the system of rewarding people by promoting those who do their jobs well up the ladder, but whose scope and requirements are deemed beyond their abilities. The Peter Principle is a lesson about exaggerating expectations even beyond human capacities.

It is a dangerous situation if Peter Principle begins to manifest among the people in an organization. It will lead to inefficiency, stress and the loss of people's motivation to work well!

Some manifestations of Peter Principle:

  1. Over-promotion of people due to their good performance. The next higher position may not be good to the newly promoted. An accountant is good in accounting, but poor in supervising employees.
  2. A lawyer is trained in law. But to let the lawyer manage an organization is tragedy!
  3. Passing the tasks to those who are able to perform and deliver the outputs. These tasks might not be within the competency of these people.
  4. A popularly elected legislator, who has public relations skills, will surely find it difficult to legislate.

INSIGHTS: Be careful with Peter Principle. Be careful with assigning some tasks to those who can deliver. They might not deliver also. Be careful with multi-tasking; it will bring you nearer to your inutility. Be careful with promotions. Complement promotions with formal training, mentoring or coaching. OJT techniques (on-the-job training) and management training programs are very good schemes to avert Peter Principle.


Peter, Laurence and Raymund Hull. 1968. The Peter Principle. NY: William Morrow & Co.

Uris, Auren. 1986. 101 of the Greatest Ideas in Management. USA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Peter Principle at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Principle.