Friday, July 18, 2008

July 21, 2008


The Peter Principle was introduced back in 1969 by Dr. Laurence J. Peter in his book of the same name. In a nutshell, the principle contends that in a hierarchical organization a person will rise to the level of their competency, and trouble arises if the person rises above it. Along with Parkinson's Law, it is one of the most well known principles in the world of management. Unfortunately, young people are unfamiliar with the concept which is perhaps why we are seeing more people lately rising above their level of competency.

So what are the earmarks of the Peter Principle? Actually, three indicators come to mind:

  1. Project estimates and schedules are routinely missed. The person doesn't just miss assignments every now and then, but consistently misses them. This is indicative of the person's ability to see projects through to successful completion or manage by objectives. If he cannot, he either lacks the proper skills and training to perform the work, or simply doesn't care about being late or over budget.

  2. The duties and responsibilities as defined in a job description are not being met. Again, this may be indicative of the lack of proper knowledge, skills and experience, or an attitude problem.

  3. The person lacks the respect and confidence of the people working around him, not only his subordinates, but his superior and lateral relationships as well. Although this is difficult to quantify, it basically tells us, "Where there is smoke, there is fire." In other words, the person either has bad social skills, or his peers already know what he is capable and incapable of doing.

Aside from dealing with someone who is in over his head, the real challenge is to hire the right person for the right job, which is not quite as easy as it may sound. Human resource departments may have a battery of tests to verify a person's skills and general knowledge, but successful experience and attitudes are much harder to substantiate. Again, there are three areas to consider:

  1. Ability to meet project estimates and schedules. This is difficult to demonstrate and management inevitably has to rely on the person's word for their performance. Then again, if the person had been using a Project Management system at his last job, he may have access to documentation which reflects his performance.

  2. Understands the job he is applying for. This is where a lot of people get into trouble as they do not really grasp the significance of the job they are applying for, but like the title. Regretfully, people too often chase titles as opposed to jobs. To test his knowledge, ask the person to articulate the job description and how he would satisfy the requirements for it. Further, has he performed a comparable job like this before?

  3. Respect of the people he worked with. Again, this is difficult to substantiate as people are more reluctant to give references these days in fear of possible litigation for giving a bad reference. Nonetheless, references should be scrutinized as closely as possible.

The one question that is commonly overlooked is, "Why do you want this job?" The answers might surprise you, e.g.; "I need a job", "I'm looking to advance myself and need a challenge," "I'm the right person for the job", etc. The one I particularly like is, "I want to make a difference," which indicates to me the person's confidence and ambition.

Hiring people without doing a thorough examination of the person's background is courting the Peter Principle.

Allowing people to stay in a position where they are in over their head is just plain irresponsible on management's part. It is a disservice not only to the company, but to the employee as well. When a person has risen above their level of competency, it will become obvious to others and may affect morale. Standard and routine performance appraisals should help overcome this problem, but if they are infrequently performed or done in an inconsistent manner, the Peter Principle will inevitably kick in. Management should either work with the person to get him back on track, or terminate his employment.

I guess what troubles me here is that people apply for jobs they knowingly are not qualified for, and remarkably, every now and then they slip through the cracks and get the job. In this event, management gets what they pay for.

If you would like to discuss this with me in more depth, please do not hesitate to send me an e-mail.

Keep the faith!

OUR BRYCE'S LAW OF THE WEEK therefore is...

"A man has got to know his limitations." - Dirty Harry


Folks, be sure to check out our eBook on management entitled, "The Bryce is Right! Empowering Managers in today's Corporate Culture." This is a frank and candid description of the state of the art in management and includes essays on the problems in management today, along with some pragmatic advice on how to deal with them. Basically, this is a condensed course in management. As such, it is suited for managers, either those aspiring to become a manager or for those who need a refresher course. It will also be of interest to young people entering the work force, and is excellent for college curriculums.

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We have also produced a one-day training program of the same name. For more information on both the eBook and course, please visit our web site at:

While there, look for our MS PowerPoint presentation describing both the book and the training program.


As this is an election year we are again being bombarded by polls from the media telling us how everyone thinks about meaningless issues and who has already won the election. 63% of my readership agrees that the media has gone overboard in conducting polls; and 20% believe they should be horsewhipped for trying to influence the election. Interestingly, 5.6% of Lithuanian readers in the Southwest believe I am just being an alarmist.

People who own Shar-Pei puppies in eastern Wisconsin generally like the media's news coverage, but Pit Bull owners in Teaneck, New Jersey have stopped watching television altogether. I also found 78% of Catholics in Western New York mourned the passing of NBC's Tim Russert, while 20% of those surveyed preferred green chilies with their eggs in the morning.

34% of the people polled thought Sen. John McCain was too old to serve as President while another 36% thought Sen. Barack Obama was too black to serve. Remarkably, a whopping 60% didn't know who Senators McCain and Obama were and thought Ronald Reagan should whip incumbent Jimmy Carter in the Fall.

There has been an 8% rise of young voters registered to vote in the election this year, 12% of which speak Ebonics, 23% speak Spanish, and 65% were incapable of comprehending the English language. There has also been a 15% rise in voter registration around Chicago cemeteries.

36% of the readership thought the Wall Street Journal was excellent for wrapping fish, but 25% preferred the New York Times for lining bird cages.

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.


Folks, a couple of years ago I started to include my "Pet Peeve of the Week" in these "Management Visions" podcasts. They have become so popular that I now syndicate them through the Internet and they are available for republication in other media. To this end, I have created a separate web page for my writings which you can find at Look for the section, "The Bryce is Right!" Hope you enjoy them.

Also, if you happen to be in the Tampa Bay area of Florida, be sure to stop by and check out our new Palm Harbor Business OASIS, a new business venue offering local business people a place to meet, work, network, and relax. Why pay a lot for leasing office space when you can become a member of the OASIS for as little as $100/month? For more information, visit our web site at:


I received the following e-mail regarding my article on "A Corporate Policy for Personal Electronic Devices":

An O.K. in New Zealand wrote...

"The back office developer wears an iPod... Difficult stance to take for a Manager. I guess it depends on the working environment/company culture. If you're working for an easy-going, convivial company, then yes, you should forbid the use of a social challenger device like an MP3 player. You should promote instead greater communication between staff, at the little expense of efficiency but for the greater gain of motivation. Now, if your company does not allow other noise than flies and stapples... Help the poor developer who has to be productive in such a painful area, give her/him an iPod so her/his days are not boring as hell. For people driving forklifts, machinery, etc., I agree that kind of distraction should be forbidden."

I received the following e-mails from my "Pet Peeve" entitled, "Travel Planning":

An M.A. in Tampa, Florida wrote...

"I can certainly understand where travel planning for some is laborious and time consuming. But for others, such as myself, it’s part of the journey and is actually enjoyable. I enjoy going to the bookstore and purchasing the maps, videos and travel books of the places that I plan on visiting. I derive pleasure in delving into the history of the locale. It makes for a more rewarding and enriching experience. That includes booking the airlines, car rentals, hotel rooms etc. I like knowing that I’m getting exactly what I want. And I’m a firm believer that most of the time, it’s as the saying goes, ‘If you want a job done right, do it yourself’. Not to mention the money saved by not having to pay a travel agent fee. If I were a business traveler however, then I could see the need and convenience of having someone else make all the travel plans."

I received the following e-mails from my "Pet Peeve" entitled, "Getting into a Rut":

A B.C. in Houston, Texas wrote...

"I think this is really important for managers to be aware of, over time every activity can feel boring and repetitive. I think the idea of rotating people into new roles, injecting some 'change' into day to day processes and breaking the monotony by wearing shorts or doing calisthenics are great ideas. Continuous improvement can also be a mechanism to guard against this complacency, if people have a voice in how to improve their activities and are encouraged/incented to make these improvements it can change monotony into opportunity."

Again, thanks for your comments. For these and other comments, please visit my "Bryce is Right!" web site.

Keep those cards and letters coming.

MBA is an international management consulting firm specializing in Information Resource Management. We offer training, consulting, and writing services in the areas of Enterprise Engineering, Systems Engineering, Data Base Engineering, Project Management, Methodologies and Repositories. For information, call us at 727/786-4567.

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This is Tim Bryce reporting.

Since 1971: "Software for the finest computer - the Mind."


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