Promoting People at Random Is No Worse Than Randomly Promoting Competent People → Washingtons Blog
Promoting People at Random Is No Worse Than Randomly Promoting Competent People - Washingtons Blog

Monday, July 6, 2009

Promoting People at Random Is No Worse Than Randomly Promoting Competent People

An interesting new study new shows that two methods are at least as good as the current method of promoting competent individuals up the ladder :

The first is to alternately promote first the most competent and then the least competent individuals. And the second is to promote individuals at random. Both of these methods improve, or at least do not diminish, the efficiency of an organization.


Because the "Peter Principle" shows that:

Members in a hierarchical organization climb the hierarchy until they reach their level of maximum incompetence.

The basis of the Peter Principle is that:
Common sense tells us that a member who is competent at a given level will also be competent at a higher level of the hierarchy. So it may well seem a good idea to promote such an individual to the next level.

In other words, people are promoted until it becomes obvious they are not doing a good job in their higher-level position.

But the assumption that someone good at their job will also do well when given more responsibility isn't necessarily true. This is especially true when the new job requires skills of a different nature than the old job.

Smart management should test the applicant for ability in areas of the new job skills instead of just assuming that competence in one area will translate into competence in another.


  1. The idea that American corporations actually assess the competence of individuals at doing their jobs is laughable. So called performance ratings typically reflect how a person's boss thinks about that person and their performance, and that is more often than not an entirely subjective gut feeling dressed up with language acceptable to the HR department.

    American business tends to reward aggressiveness rather than competence. As one of my earlier (and incompetent) bosses told me, "It's better to ask forgiveness than permission." The quietly competent people who do excellent work day after day are considered average and the noisy bastard who spends more time asserting himself than doing his job is the "outstanding" performer. That's always the guy they promote and keep promoting until he pisses off someone higher than him.

  2. at my former employers, I never could get promoted because they couldn't afford to take me off the front lines. I was by far the most competent worker on any given shift. I got results, I got stuff done, and done right. I became too valuable to promote! By the end I was like a grizzled NCO with service stripes down my arm, more competent than many of the 2LTs (shift supervisors) that were nominally my bosses. They did finally give me a belated but generous raise in an attempt to keep me, but it was too little, too late. Now I have a cushy academic job, and am glad not to be working for my former corporate master (it was a branch of AIG).


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