Posted on Jan 19, 2014
SFC Michael Hasbun
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There have a number of posts regarding incompetence/misbehavior in our senior leadership, and the military in general. As a possible explanation, I present to you, the Peter Principle. I've always believed this to be the culprit, but let me know what you think;

What is the Peter Principle?
Peter Principle Management is the concept that in
bureaucratic organizations, new employees typically start in the lower ranks,
but when they prove to be competent in the task to which they are assigned,
they get promoted to a higher rank, generally management. This process of
climbing up the hierarchical ladder can go on indefinitely, until the employee reaches
a position where he or she is no longer competent. At that moment the process
typically stops, since the established rules of bureaucracies make it very
difficult to "demote" someone to a lower rank, even if that person
would be a much better fit and happier in a non-management role. The net result
of this principle is that most of the management levels of a bureaucracy will
be filled by incompetent people, who got there because they were quite good at
doing different (and usually, but not always, easier) work than the work they
are currently expected to perform.

According to Laurence Johnston Pieter: Work is accomplished
by those employees who have not reached their level of incompetence. Thus we
can see why organizations still function even as Peter Principled employees
accept one too many promotions. Laurence Peter provides an insightful analysis
of why so many positions in so many organizations seem to be populated by
employees who seem incompetent. This concept is likely to be ignored by most
senior managers since to admit one's organization is suffering from this
bureaucratic malady is admission that people have been improperly promoted.
This, in turn, suggests that senior management might have attained their own
level incompetence, and the problem is easily ignored, lest it become suggested
that senior management be more closely examined for their incompetence.

An example:
If you're a proficient and effective software developer,
you're most likely demonstrating peak competence in your job right now. As a
result of your performance, your valuable contribution results in a promotion
to a management position. In this new position, you now do few of the original
tasks which gained you acclaim. In fact, little of your current job remains
enjoyable, therefore your heart is no longer in your work, and it shows. Given
this, promotions stop, and there you stay, until you retire or your company
goes under due to mismanagement.

Companies will attract and expand on a certain level of
incompetence. Once a company forms a culture of incompetence, only the incompetent staff will remain, and the competent ones will tire of trying to soar with eagles while surrounded by turkeys, and therefore leave.
Posted in these groups: United states army logo ArmyProfessionalism logo Professionalism
Edited 8 y ago
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Responses: 11
1LT Infantry Officer
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<div>tl;dr - It is awful, true, and can be addressed through more bureaucracy.&nbsp;</div><div><br></div><div>I use the Peter Principle in ALC to teach how to comprehend and navigate the Army better. &nbsp;It depresses a lot of people and opens the eyes of some to a world of incompetence they took for granted.</div><div><br></div><div><br></div><div>Problem:</div><div><br></div>Here is the funny thing about the military and the Peter Principle: &nbsp;Our 20 year retirement system makes it worse. &nbsp;There are a lot of incompetent people who know that they suck or would be removed via a number of our quality control systems if it weren't for an all-or-nothing system when it comes to retirement.<div>Consider the per capita levels of incompetence you experienced in the active duty population inbetween 10 and 22 years TIS as compared to 23 years and up. &nbsp;A lot of incompetent people retire the moment their lack of upward mobility prevents promotion beyond the point where they can draw benefits for life.<br><br>Example: &nbsp;You peaked at 14 years TIS as a SSG after you went indef. &nbsp;You will never see SFC and you're holding a spot someone else could serve in better than you. &nbsp;You'd be an idiot to not stick around for another six years and draw 50% of base-pay for the rest of your natural life.<br><br>Remember the outrage about QSP in the Army possibly eliminating people prior to reaching 20 years? &nbsp;We had to promise TERA to make it politically acceptable.</div><div><br></div><div><br></div><div>Solution:</div><div><br></div><div>I have a pet project solution to lessening the impact of the Peter Principle with a two-prong approach: Make retirement variable based on total TIS with payout at social security age and give a weighted score for accuracy of ERS assessments of past subordinates that factors into promotion.</div><div><br></div><div>The change in retirement is to making you eligible for X% of base pay at 60/65 years of age based on total TIS. &nbsp;X is the fraction of 20 years TIS equaling 50%. &nbsp;So, 5 years TIS equals 12.5% and 40 equals 100%. &nbsp;Hell, we can cap it at 75% for all I care. &nbsp;This eliminates the incentive to stay in beyond your useful service life as the financial benefit of transitioning to civilian life in the absence of promotion potential should be greater than adding a few percent to your retirement in a few decades before QSP (permanent program, please) snatches you up.<br><br>The ERS weighted score is a little reminiscent of the mob. &nbsp;When you rate someone as Above Center Mass or 1/1; you put your career on the line by vouching for their future performance. &nbsp;Meaning that if they violate the entire UCMJ, that's a black mark on your record. &nbsp;Now, this weighted score would have to account for how far back this rating occurred&nbsp;an what the respective grades of the rated Soldier and senior rater were at that time.<br>This would address the issue of dishonest ratings given in order to "not hurt someone's career" by making you accountable for the potential you said someone had. &nbsp;This could be tracked via the individual SSNs through the computed value of the ERS and reliefs for cause/GOMRs given. &nbsp;<br>We could prevent consistent low ratings for potential by having the weighted average swing both ways. &nbsp;As in, if you rate everyone as a 3/3 and&nbsp;over half of them end up outstripping you in their own duty performance then you are a bad judge of potential, and it's a black mark.<br><br>Combine the reform to ERS to create honest ratings with an incentive to end your service when you can't give to Uncle Sam anymore good stuff, and we should see a reduction in people staying at their level of incompetence. &nbsp;'Tis a pipe dream.</div>
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SFC Michael Hasbun
SFC Michael Hasbun
>1 y
Good god, you'd never see anything above 2/2 ever again...
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1LT Infantry Officer
1LT (Join to see)
>1 y
The official definition of 2/2 is "promote ahead of peers." &nbsp;A 1/1 should be reserved for the Soldiers that make us all look like repeat sham-shield Specialists in their levels of dedication, performance, and potential for future service in positions of greater authority and responsibility. &nbsp;The kind of people we used to promote on the spot based on a General's authority.<br><br>The problem with that is that no one is held accountable for inflated ratings, which means that the inflated ratings become the standard over time and we end up with a world in which the 3/3 means "I just can't make the bar to reenlistment stick."
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SFC Michael Hasbun
SFC Michael Hasbun
>1 y
Agreed completely. This is why I think we should do away with the numbers and ratings and let the bullets do all the talking.
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1LT Infantry Officer
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My idea for the mob-vouching system requires box checks. &nbsp;As much as I dislike the wrangling over how many excellences does an Among the Best make, I think we need four box checks:<br>Excellence, Success, Retain, Separate. &nbsp;1 and 2 become Excellence, 3 becomes Success, 4 is Retain, and 5 is Separate.<br>The real sticking point with me is 1 and 2, simply because you're trying to draw a subjective line between promote right now and promote even more right now.
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1st Lt Pilot
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Do 2Lt's ever reach a level of competence?
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SFC Michael Hasbun
SFC Michael Hasbun
>1 y
Perhaps it's time to change that?
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CPT All Source Intelligence
CPT (Join to see)
>1 y
SSG Hasbun,

It is going to change because they are planning, last I heard, to gradually move the TIG to 1LT from 18 mos when I was a 2LT, to 3 years, what it used to be before the wartime Army. People will whine and cry, but 6 years to CPT is about right.
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SFC Michael Hasbun
SFC Michael Hasbun
>1 y
Oh wow, that's a big leap...  But I agree, it can only help.
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CPT Intelligence Exercise Planner
CPT (Join to see)
10 y

I got caught in that first move towards longer promotions to CPT but despite the hit to the pocket book, I completely agree that it is needed.  Over the past decade, I have seen many young CPTs fail in both command and on primary staff due to a lack of experience and inability to cope with a high stress environment. 

I should be OK, though, since I am FAR from being considered a 'young' CPT. LOL

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COL Vincent Stoneking
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Great post, and great example. This is a real issue in both the corporate world as well as the military. I got here via a link in a discussion of NCOER performance/potential bullet "misalignment."<div><br></div><div>On the civilian side, I used to be a software developer. I got a project management position largely on the strength of my performance as a software developer. Luckily, I have a decent level of ability in the disciple, and had been training/preparing for the move (and the training the Army gave me didn't hurt). I was a good PM, but I've got to say that I seem to have been the exception. Most people that I saw follow the same pattern sucked and didn't last long. (in most organizations, most management positions are "figure it out, chief!" OJT.)</div><div><br></div><div>I am now a PMO manager, and hoping that this isn't he high-water mark of my competence. My next promotion will let me know.&nbsp;</div>
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