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The Eponymous Principles of Management

The Eponymous Principles of Management – The Peter’s Principle

Foreword

An eponym is a person, place, or thing after whom or which someone or something is, or is believed to be, named. The adjectives derived from eponym include eponymous and eponymic.

One of the most famous eponyms in Literature is ‘Yahoos’. In Book IV of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, the hero Gulliver encounters uncouth and degraded people who he calls ‘Yahoos’. Today one meaning of ‘Yahoo’ still remains ignorant, uncouth or brutish people. However, Americans used it as exclamation of happiness or happiness, which is adopted by the internet company ‘Yahoo!’

Eponym is like an allusion that refers to a famous person. Therefore, it develops a ‘Fevicol-bond’ – one more classic example of a eponym – link between a reference and the thing being referred to, and through this connection, readers can understand the idea easily.

One such case of strong bond with a name its connection with the relevant context is the case of THE famous villain of Hindi films – Pran (a.k.a. Pran Krishan Sikand – B: 12 February 1920 – De: 12 July 2013). A thorough gentleman to the core in his real life, his image as a villain had so strong influence that mothers would not agree to name their sons Pran.

One can find many historical or scientific terms. To name a few like:

  • Fahrenheit (the measure of temperature) – Gabriel Daniel Fahrenheit
  • Diesel (Now the common fuel for automobiles)- Rudolf Diesel
  • America (the American continent) – Amerigo Vespucci
  • Gandhism – Mahtma Gandhi or

Reganomics – Ronald Regan or

Thatcherism – Margaret Thatcher or

Modinomics – Narendra Modi

This list of eponymous laws provides links to articles on laws, principles, adages, and other succinct observations or predictions named after a person. In some cases the person named has coined the law – such as Parkinson’s law. In others, the work or publications of the individual have led to the law being so named – as is the case with Moore’s law. There are also laws ascribed to individuals by others, such as Murphy’s law; or given eponymous names despite the absence of the named person.

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We plan to take up in the present series various known and less-known eponymous principles relating to the field of management.


The Peter Principle

The Peter Principle should be one of the most known principles to find place in most of the academic work of the management schools over the world, even though it has not been conceived for the academic purposes. The principle is published in the form of a book – “The Peter Principle, Why Things Always Go Wrong”, by Dr Peter J Laurence and Raymond Hull,1969 – in the basic premises made in the book remain valid a good fifty years now and, in all probabilities will remain valid fifty years from now. The popularity of the book can be judged by the fact that BBC One aired a 1 pilot + 2 series of 6 episodes each show The Peter Principle between 1995 to 2000.

The Peter Principle is stated as – “In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.”

One of the most common reason for such a phenomenon to occur is that more often than not people were promoted based on their current performance. This measure of competence does not guarantee that that person will necessarily be true for the competence required for the job in the higher position. consideration of their capacity to take on greater responsibility. The result is that that person works out to be less good for the higher job than the previous job.

Moreover, the way hierarchical mind set of the persons at higher levels is also more likely to be similarly conditioned.

In a typical organization, before the real situation becomes known, the person is likely to get, at least,  a couple of more climbs up the organizational stair. This leads to the situation narrated in the Peter’s Corollary: In time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent to carry out its duties.

Another reason why the degree of incompetence remains hidden is that Work is accomplished by those employees (normally at the lower, or the actual operative levels)who have not yet reached their level of incompetence.

Since the aim here is not present the whole book or all the relevant related research and treatises, it would be opportune to note that the book, even now, remains a good reading – purely as a work of satirical fiction or a real introduction to the ways of hierarchiology- the study of hierarchies.

It is even more interesting to note that the applicability of The Peter Principle does not simply is limited to the hierarchies in an organization. The same logic applies to other situations caused ether by the nature or by the man, in situations other than the organizational hierarchy. The form and effect may appear to be somewhat different than that in the case of organizational hierarchy. In the real-life situations, in essence, the competence can be perceived as the inability to cope with the given situation effectively.

In nature, only fittest survive the inevitable cycles of change. Those who cannot adapt to the new set of circumstances are destined to be become fossils. Man is susceptible to become incompetent either because of the circumstances of his own creation or those created by the external forces. For example – The most competent archer of his time Arjun suddenly found himself wanting to take on the fight on the first day when he sees his elders, brothers and friends pitted against him on the opposite camp. Or, Bjorn Borg found his motivation lacking to continue his non-stop title winning spree at the Wimbledon when he started finding opponents who were not able to extend his prowess to the newer limits. A great player like Borg had one black dot on his records book  he had never won a US open title.

One may argue that artists or creative people should not be compared with more mundane people in the fields of industry / business or such other professional works. Beginning with Phase 1.0 of the Industrial revolution, the world of the economic activities has been undergoing its own steady-rate changes, each set of the major and related minor changes have posed challenges to the mankind to remain fit enough to survive in the new set of circumstances. At every stage of the Industrial Revolution, the nature changes have been becoming more and more complex and rate of such changes have been more rapid. ‘Change is the only constant’ dictum that was prevalent by the end of previous century is now no more valid. In the present VUCA era, where change is THE destructively dynamic fluid state, “Best Practice was yesterday, Best Thinking is in demand today and tomorrow.”

On a lighter note –

Even before you may get to read the book and several other excellent treatises on how to overcome the Peter Principle, it would be desirable to be forewarned that the reading will only intensify the feeling of what is being said henceforth – it is water-tight fait accompli that everyone reaches to some level of incompetence at some stage of one’s life. Persons who scrape through with less degree of incompetence either have learnt from their lessons consciously or have learnt them by the force of some external stimuli.

Yes, underlined, in capital bold, letters, the message is that if you can remain a learning person- or a learning organization – you have fair chance to maintain your level of competence.

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The Peter Principle trail does not end here. There is An Opposite of Peter Principle, a Dilbert Principle which is more a cause of worry to ‘the management’ and of course there is Gervais Principle and then there is Coase’s Ceiling……

By ASHOK M VAISHNAV

In July 2011, I opted to retire from my active career as a practicing management professional. In the 38 years that I pursued this career, I had opportunity to work in diverse capacities, in small-to-medium-to-large engineering companies. Whether I was setting up Greenfield projects or Brownfield projects, nurturing the new start-ups or accelerating the stabilized unit to a next phase growth, I had many more occasions to take the paths uncharted. The life then was so challenging!
One of the biggest casualty in that phase was my disregards towards my hobbies - Be with The Family, Enjoy Music form Films of 1940s to mid-1970s period, write on whatever I liked to read, pursue amateur photography and indulge in solving the chess problems.
So I commenced my Second Innings to focus on this area of my life as the primary occupation.
At the end of four years, I am now quite a regular blogger. I have been able to build a few very strong pen-relationships.
I maintain contact with 38-years of my First Innings as freelance trainer and process facilitator.
And yet,
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

6 replies on “The Eponymous Principles of Management – The Peter’s Principle”

Nice to read this Ashok, Peter’s principle is pretty interesting in terms of employees moving towards entropy. However, it does fail to reflect the humanistic aspect of people working towards self actualisation. Comparing this with Maslow’s law of hierarchy, the two highlights of self actualisation or adding value to an organisation etc is failed in this. Having said that, it certainly is a very interesting highlight on how management was pursued back then.

Thanks, Vinay, for your very generous appreciation..

The continuing sustained competence, is, indeed a very complex subject.

One aspect of that is what you have very rightly mentioned as people who work for their own satisfaction, driven by their own internal motivation.

In fact, now that you mention this aspect, I am able to connect it well with what is known as ‘Opposite of Peter Principle’ (which I plan to take up in the b=next episode).

That’s very true,. Quite agonizing, but yes, so true.

That is why this Principle has not lost its charm, to day, and in all likelihood, for many more years to come.

The beauty is the individuals are also conditioned by a fixed template of the competence model

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