The New “Peter Principle”
By Mark Long, director of incubation services at the University of Florida
In my corporate experience “back in the day” (Translation: when I was a lot, lot younger), we would often refer to the “ Peter Principle.” The Peter Principle is a concept in management developed by Laurence J. Peter, which observes that people in a hierarchy tend to rise to their “level of incompetence.”
In other words, an employee is promoted based on their success in previous jobs until they reach a level at which they are no longer competent, as skills in one job do not necessarily translate to another. So the Peter Principle illustrates the “not-exactly-the-best-person-for-the-job” concept.
Today, I’m introducing a new Peter Principle. I’ll call it the “Jobs Principle.” (I know, I know, you want me to call it the “Long Principle” because I’m introducing it. I get it.) The reason for calling it the Jobs Principle is the recent flurry of folks posting memes on LinkedIn and Facebook listing a quote attributed to Steve Jobs, the late CEO of Apple.
“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
The Jobs Principle is not the equivalent of the quote attributed to Jobs. I heard a version of it way back in the ’70s (you know, “back in the day”). The idea then (and what Job proposed) is the long-standing principle of “surround yourselves with the best possible people if you want to achieve success.” The idea was to hire the best possible people, even people who had more talent/ability than you, if you wanted to achieve success in management and in your business.
The Jobs Principle is the recognition that what Steve Jobs recommended — hiring people smarter than yourselves — doesn’t happen. I don’t know your experience, but in my work history, the exact opposite has been true (with 1–2 notable exceptions).
Thus, the Jobs Principle:
People in management tend to surround themselves with individuals who are less qualified, less experienced, and less competent than they are to make themselves look better and ensure they will not be challenged.”
That’s the Jobs Principle, plain and simple. Most people don’t want to hire someone who is “more experienced, better qualified and more talented” than they are (to actually help the organization). They want to hire those who can’t rise to their level, can’t challenge them for their job. They want individuals who will just say yes and never disagree. They see them as merely filling a slot, not as adding serious capabilities to the company.
So the Jobs Principle could be translated this way:
“Always hire people who don’t know as much as you, aren’t as qualified as you, who couldn’t do your job even if they had to, and you’ll be okay.”
You won’t be GREAT, but you’ll be okay. You’ll never be challenged by any of them, as they can’t possibly be out to get your job. Plus, consider how smart you will look, surrounding yourself with people who can’t — or won’t — question you. After all, they have much less knowledge than you do about the job! You’ll have a handy excuse for not meeting deadlines and not getting work done, because, after all, you can’t expect them to do things they don’t know how to do. Don’t forget the added thrill of job security.
What’s not to love about following the Jobs Principle?
We all need great employees to make us — and our company — great. Most of the time, managers want the best possible candidates for each and every job. However, job security can be a thought in the back recesses of our mind, and the temptation to hire the less qualified option may be there, just to prove our point that we’re indispensable.
As my second boss (one of my favorites) once said, “I don’t want you to fear me, but everyone should be just a little bit afraid, every day, that they might lose their job. That fear of loss is a great motivator to do your very best.”
He also let me know that losing a job is fairly universal, sometimes for no good reason — such as, maybe, the boss’s nephew needs a job (and you’re in the way of progress, here), or maybe the boss just plain doesn’t like you, or maybe anything!
In fact, I was once told I was being “right-sized” when I lost a position. I replied, “I didn’t know I was the wrong size!”
The point is that not hiring a top-flight candidate because you want to feel secure in your job is similar to jumping off a ladder because you have a fear of heights. It’s just not logical, and it won’t really help you or the organization.
So hire smart people and get out of their way. Find the best candidates for the job, and let them help you and your company. Understand that just because people have great qualifications, are intelligent and have extensive experience doesn’t mean they’re “out to get you.”
Have confidence in yourself and in your ability to surround yourself with the best possible talent available. Follow Steve Jobs’ quote — rather than the Jobs Principle I’ve laid out here — and you just might make your job easier!
Originally published at http://incubatorblogger.wordpress.com on April 24, 2019.