The main premise of The Peter Principle is fascinating – people rise to the level of their own incompetence. They do well and are promoted; that cycle continues until they can no longer do well – and they are no longer promotable. At that point, they are, in Dr. Peter’s words, incompetent at their jobs.
The part of The Peter Principle that I wanted to focus on for this post, however, is Dr. Peter’s assertion that incompetent people don’t or can’t get fired. That fate only falls to the “super-incompetent.” (He also says that firing happens to the “super competent," but you’ll have to read the book to get in on that point!) Is that true? Have we grown so used to people who can’t do their jobs, that we accepting of "having a warm body"?
When we think of the service level that is common at many restaurants and retail locations (outside of our industry, of course!), it appears that the world at large is accepting of incompetence. How else would a business still be in business if it can’t keep product on the shelf or provide customer service? Yet, so many of them are….
I talk daily with store owners – and all of them are facing challenges (or crises) of some degree. Some are caused by “ordinary” stuff – landlords and utilities, time crunches, supplier out of stocks, employees calling in sick, etc. Some are caused by the “extraordinary” stuff, like the current economic challenge that we face. I do have to wonder how different things would be – in dealing with both the ordinary and the extraordinary - if we didn’t settle for anything less than the best when it comes to our staffing. (Or if our vendors did!)
I am not calling for a mass dismissal of anyone’s employees, but I do wonder of how much more thorough our recruitment programs – and our training programs – would be if we took this more seriously.
On a positive note, I wonder if the lack of acceptance of incompetence is why so many “smaller independents” (Ma and Pa stores) in our industry do so well. The owner is in the store, rubbing elbows with staff and customers alike, very involved in the service and value that the store is providing. It is hard to hide incompetence there! One of these folks told me that their secret is that they “hire slow, fire fast, and train thoroughly”!