Home > Career > Avoiding the Peter’s Principle Trap

I recently met a senior executive, now customer (he is currently no2 of a multinational consumer goods company) whose main dilemma was: « how can I further grow and develop myself as my employer cannot offer me motivating challenges that ignite my energy and my enthusiasm ? Aged 50, I feel the mainstream promotion system I was benefiting from isn’t the path to follow any more. I don’t want to fall into the Peter’s principle trap! »

Don’t limit your development and growth?

As a reminder, the definition of Peter’s principle is anything that works will be used in progressively more challenging applications until it fails.

In a organizational structure, assessing an employee’s potential for a promotion is often based on their performance in the current job. This eventually results in their being promoted to their highest level of competence and potentially then to a role in which they are not competent, referred to as their “level of incompetence”. The employee has no chance of further promotion, thus reaching their career’s ceiling in a traditional hierarchically organized eco-system.

Don’t be imprisoned within a context

The reality is that the pyramidal structure of an organisation even in a flat one, is the origin of the principle. Because a pyramid….is a pyramid ! The organisational chart is the obstacle not the level of competency or the potential of an individual.

Lack of opportunities and options (any empty slot for me up there?) generates the flat «plateau» curve and demotivation.

First there aren’t many options when close to the top. And by its nature the selection process discourages possible applicants

When close to the summit … the logic is either :

  • Become the number 1
  • Become a senior project executive without P & L responsibility/team leadership…and not be in the radar screen anymore till you are considered too expensive or a +1 in the headcount
  • Take an « invitation » for an early retirement
  • Lastly, and a riskier option, is to exit before asked

Often the communication describing the situation above is fuzzy and naturally, the executive tries to «save» himself within the system one way or another…gaining time untill the loss of the job ! An enormous waste of time, value and potential!

Take your foot off the brakes for a brighter future

The emergence of digitalization and disruptive business models accentuate this statement to the point where finally the human factor needs to be reconsidered. True leaders and entrepreneurs are the driving force and the ultimate asset that makes the difference thus allowing the development and recognition of their full potential.

In today’s rapidly redefining, reshaping and reorganizing workplace, a prerequisite for your survival and success is to take charge of your career direction and professional progression. Even if sometimes, the very things that have got you where you are, can be the same things that will prevent you from going to the next level.

Therefore the need to adapt to change, to keep experimenting, to embrace new challenges: don’t let small things prevent you from further prospering and building an extraordinary career.

Some tips to follow :

  • If you see something you’re passionate about, get on the bus. It’s better to be a passenger on the bus that’s going where you want to go than the driver of the bus that’s heading for a dead end.
  • No one limits your growth but you. If you want to earn more, learn more.
  • Successful career management is about not having the right answers….but asking the right questions that unleashes your potential.
  • Apply the “yes” strategy – curiosity and openness generate strong people relationships and bonds that yield creative solutions to problems.
  • Align yourself with people who lift you up: those who are smarter, savvier and wiser than you are.
  • Career governance is a lot about a few people you met who had a huge impact at crossroad moments in your business life. More often than not we don’t even notice the importance of these decisive moments. Only years later do we become aware of their relevance.

Career Governance is to… Think Big… Start Small… Because the future is happening now!

In exploring different or new career paths whatever your age, you will need to clarify your direction and options; you will maximize the leverage of your business acumen while optimizing your positioning and not simply fill up an empty C-slot in corporate environment.

You will shape your professional future as you want and ultimately you will keep the ownership of your career. 

It is a unique chance for you to:

  • Enhance your visibility and measure your attractivity index
  • Raise awareness of your own potential and external credibility
  • Position you as a true differentiator and behave as a value creator instead as a job seeker
  • Master the art of receiving unsolicited career-jobs options
  • Prepare (due diligence) to direct your career and be permanently pro-active
  • Resolve to invent more choices . The more choices you have, the less trapped …and happier you will feel.

You will experience a sense of awareness, confidence, motivation, action and autonomy in “make it happen as you want” thus avoiding “being a hostage” of a context/system. You will be empowered not only by your employability but by your changed perception in directing your career…equipped with a mindset, a strategy, and an action plan.

Remember : human capital is the only asset of a company whose leverage is unlimited. Even if Peter’s principle exists, you can side-step it and take control of your whole career journey.


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