The Peter Principle

Have you observed any management principles in your workplace?

Today, we will be going through one of the management principles that we have: the Peter Principle.



At the end of this session, participants should be able to:

  • Define the Peter Principle;

  • Identify when the principle is happening and;

  • Brainstorm ideas on how to avoid it from happening.


The Peter Principle


The Peter Principle was originally founded by Laurence J. Peter. He was able to publish a book with screenwriter, Raymond Hull. It was initially intended to be satirical but with the serious implications it meant to the workplace, it became the principle that it is today. 

What is the Peter Principle?

What is The Peter Principle?

The Peter Principle states that a person rises to "their level of incompetence".

In other words, people are promoted based on their performance in a previous role but won't necessarily mean that they would be successful in their new role. 

For instance, a supervisor may be promoted to a manager based on his competence and effectiveness in handling his own team. This doesn't mean that the newly promoted manager will be competent in his new role and may prove to be ineffective over time. 

There are other exceptions to this principle but Peter and Hull were able to debunk most of them when they published their book in 1969.

Are there any exceptions to the Principle?

Percussive Sublimation 

This is one illusory exception when one is still promoted when he is incompetent his current role. 

This is considered as a false promotion as by definition, a promotion is a move from a position of competence to another. 

Lateral Arabesque

Lateral arabesque occurs when a person is removed from a department or hierarchy to another department as to minimize the damage or level of incompetency. 

Hierarchical Exfoliation

This is what happens to someone who is super competent or super incompetent in an organization. As these exceptions ruin the balance of the hierarchy, they are then removed from the hierarchy. 

Is the Peter Principle always the case?

Not everyone who is promoted falls prey to the Peter principle. 

We have what we call as the Pygmalion effect or the Rosenthal effect. 

The Pygmalion effect, which is what it's normally referred to, happens when one rises to the challenge and provides an increase in performance instead of being incompetent.  

This phenomenon may prove to be a self-fulfilling prophecy wherein in negative and positive labels or assumptions come into effect accordingly. 

What is the Pygmalion Effect?

As mentioned on the previous slide, the Pygmalion effect happens when one rises up to the challenge to meet expectations

This is often seen when one leader's expectations for his subordinates are positive thus leading to a positive and successful outcome. 

However, depending on the expectations, the outcome will vary. If a leader will expect someone to fail, the subordinate will fail. 

What is the Peter Principle?

  • The Peter Principle is when one rises to the level of expectations.
  • The Peter Principle is when one proves to be ineffective in a new role.

Matching Assessment

  • Lateral Arabesque
    When someone is moved from one department to another despite being incompetent
  • Hierarchical Exfoliation
    Super-incompetence or super competence is grounds for dismissal.
  • Percussive Sublimation
    Someone who is incompetent is still promoted anyway

From being an agent for a travel agency, Anna was promoted to head their company's marketing department. Will Anna be competent or incompetent in her new role?

  • Anna will be incompetent. Since the role is something she has never done before, she will inevitably fail.
  • Either. Anna will have the choice to become effective and competent or the opposite. Anna has the choice to either fulfill her new job role or stay stuck with the mentality of her previous role.

How can we avoid the Peter Principle in our workplace?

Provide Specific Job Roles

When posting an available position, provide specific skills that would be needed to make an applicant self-assess themselves to determine whether they would be a good fit for the role.

Trial Period

As leaders, we could delegate some tasks to our people. We would be able to gauge their readiness to step up based on their performance on these small tasks assigned to them. We would also be able to provide constant feedback for improvement thus making them ready to be promoted. 

Growth and Development

As anyone who is newly promoted, we are all incompetent at some point. Providing coaching/mentoring, programs and courses would greatly improve someone's competency in a role. 

Do you have any ideas on how avoid or prevent the Peter principle from happening?


Now that we are done with the discussion, we should now be able to:

  • Define the Peter Principle;

  • Identify when the principle is happening and;

  • Avoid it from happening.