Financial Data
Updated 29 Sep 2020

Fighting with employees? You’re promoting the wrong people

Wondering why employees and management are constantly at loggerheads in your organisation? It may be because you’re promoting the wrong people.

GG van Rooyen, Entrepreneur, 08 July 2016  Share  0 comments  Print

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The Dilbert Principal

If you’ve ever been utterly convinced that your boss was an idiot, the Dilbert Principle might go some way towards explaining your predicament. Penned by Adam Scott, creator of the Dilbert cartoons, the principle states: In many cases the least competent, least smart people are promoted simply because they’re the ones you don’t want doing actual work.

You want them ordering the doughnuts and yelling at people for not doing their assignments. Your heart surgeons and your computer programmers — your smart people — aren’t in management.

Related: Your staff are your brand


The Peter Principal

A second school of thought posits that managers don’t start out useless, but become that way as mushrooming job requirements gradually overwhelm their meagre job skills.

The Peter Principle states that the selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate’s performance in their current role, rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role. Thus, employees only stop being promoted once they can no longer perform effectively. In other words, managers rise to the level of their incompetence.

The ugly truth

As you’ve probably surmised, these principles are satirical in nature, but, as is so often the case with satire, they point towards a real problem. The problem is this: Good workers don’t necessarily make good managers.

Consider the ubiquitous example of the superstar sportsman. In very few instances is the best player on a team also the captain of the team. Why? Because being the best player doesn’t mean you’re necessarily the best leader. Yet, when it comes to business, there is a tendency to promote the best ‘player’.

“The day you become a manager, your job changes totally. When you’re an employee, your performance is defined by your own work. The day you become a manager, your performance is defined by the work that others are doing. And it is not about what you need, but about what they need,” says Dr Axel Zein, CEO of WSCAD Electronic in Germany.

Related: Get staff learning without resorting to school tactics

Zein delivered a TED Talk on the issue of management in 2013, during which he made the following gloomy declaration:

“The day you become a manager, you’re bound to fail.”

Why? Because we aren’t educated to be managers — we’re educated to be workers. It ’s unlikely that anything you were taught at university while studying accounting or engineering prepared you to be a manager.

Founders and CEOs need to be aware of the fact that great workers don’t always make great managers. And sometimes, they need to be willing to make the tough choices: To promote someone who was fourth in line because he or she would be best at managing at a higher level, or to search outside the company for the right leader. 

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GG van Rooyen, Entrepreneur

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