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Stuck in a Rut: The Other Side of the Peter Principle

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AccelaWork recently published a blog post about the “Peter Principle” – which says people are promoted to the level of incompetence. But there is the reverse or opposite of this principle. It can actually be worse.

Sometimes an individual is so good at their job they become stuck in a position because their management fears promoting or transferring them to another position would cause what they do to completely fall apart. The worker is capable of more or moving on, but they never get the opportunity to do so

At one point in time, I was on a small team who wrote a manufacturing work flow software application. It worked well. So well the business entity counterpart in another division asked us to clone and modify the software for their group. After implementing the modified clone, another group asked for another clone/modify version of the software. Our team felt we were headed for a career cloning, modifying, and, of course, supporting the same software package over and over again. By that time we finished clone both of the other two team members had left the company. And I went on maternity leave to have my son, Robby. The joke was the only way to get off cloning and modifying project was to quit or have a baby.

Mainframe Computer

© Flickr user skoett

Our team took drastic measures not to be stuck in the job. Drastic measures such as these are not always the best or possible solution. Maternity leave is not an option for many folks.

So what does the worker do when they find they are so good at what they do, they are stuck?

  1. Mentor someone to take over your job. Sure this messes up job security, but if they are not the only one who can do the job, it opens up opportunity for them to do other tasks. Then they should find these other tasks that they can do.
  2. Volunteer to take on other assignments that show they can contribute ideas and solutions in other area.
  3. Take a vacation somewhere with limited cell or internet service. If they are not readily available, the mentee will learn to do the job without them. They should not put the company in jeopardy, however, and contribute if really needed.
  4. Document what they do and how they do it. Often the reason no one else can take over is all the knowledge is virtual.

Phyllis SlaughterIt is important for the individual to show they can do more for the organization by moving on (or up) than just doing the job they are really good at.

Managers should look for people stuck in the rut. They may want to stay there for job security, or the ego rush of being needed. But tomorrow they may get “hit by a bus.” Work with them to document, find them a mentee, and help them find assignments that will expand their horizons. Just do not promote them to a “position where they reach their level of incompetence.”

About Phyllis Slaughter—she spent 39 years in the Information Technology field doing a variety of positions in a several companies. Among her accomplishments are helping code the Y2K problem and helping eradicate it years later; she can code in several computer languages, has lead projects, worked in software support, and established best practices for data security and change management. In 1999 she earned a Master’s degree in MIS. And she is Robby Slaughter’s mother.

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