Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Grow or Die?

We’ve all heard of the Peter Principle (from the 1969 book), a satirical take on organizational effects: we promote people until they reach their level of incompetence. Actually this happens because many of us in leadership assume everyone else is like us—a little ambitious, appreciate challenge, want to get better, want some power/prestige/authority/responsibility. We install performance management systems through which everyone creates development plans. If someone is promoted beyond their capabilities, capacity or desire, and ask to be moved to a lower level, we don’t know how to deal with it. In fact, we often don’t allow it and insist that the person leave the organization.

But what if we could allow it, and graciously allow someone to step back into their previous role or another lower organizational-tier position? Wouldn’t the organization benefit by retaining their expertise, experience and relational capital? Instead, in the perspective of ‘grow or die’, we insist that something is wrong with ‘them’ and therefore, they’re no longer a fit with the company...when last year they were an exact fit with the company before the promotion.

And what if the organization doesn’t have higher positions for them to attain? What if the education system operated like a business and asked every excellent teacher to strive for more responsibility within the organization, leaving only the so-so teachers to actually get the work done of educating future generations?

I bet our organizations would thrive even more and we’d have a level of trust, and therefore a level of engagement that would be the envy of our competitors.

Now I realize I might suffer from Confirmation Bias—I only see the evidence that proves my theory and I’m not open to opposing theories that also fit the evidence—but test it out. Let’s see if we can reject the hypothesis with some data and conclude that maybe it’s better to dismiss the person we’ve wrongly promoted than to reassign them back into their productive position.

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