Posts Tagged ‘Peter Principle’

This breed of CEOs is not as rare as one would believe it to be, provided the canvas is not restricted to the private sector alone. Consider some non-government organizations working in the social sector. Or, look at some government-owned companies or research outfits. In many such cases, one is apt to run into CEOs whose Concern for Production is not inspiring. Nor is their Concern for People. They are primarily driven by their Concern for Ethics. Their work ethics are drawn from a value system which places a high premium on discipline and procedural compliance. A feudal approach comes naturally to them. Their passion for perfection could easily drive others around them crazy.

In terms of an upgraded Blake Mouton Grid, they rank closest to 1,1,9.X Y Z upgraded

CEOs of this kind thrive in environments where the control over resources provided is not very strict, where excuses and justifications for lapses are readily accepted and where norms of accountability are poor. Situations which involve results which are not easily measurable, say, in the realm of social change, attract and retain such talent readily.

Some of these could be brainy coves who are brimming over with ideas. Often, they rank high in terms of their IQ levels, but pretty low in their EQ levels. They lack the ability to compromise. For their team members, it is either their way or the highway. Publically dressing down those who under-perform – in their view – is a habit with them.

What makes them handicapped in realizing their true potential is their inability to organize things and to handle people.

If they decide to become stand-alone entrepreneurs, they take off well. But after the business has grown to a certain level, they are neither able to delegate tasks, nor able to build up teams to support them. The business continues to chug along with high attrition rates, sans any major growth.

The private sector views them with the healthy contempt they deserve. They never quite make it to the much-coveted corner office. Once they hit the proverbial glass ceiling and prove the veracity of the Peter’s Principle, managements find ways to either get rid of them or park them in a relatively harmless spot of the organization.Peters_principle.svg

They could be stand-alone zealots equipped with technical knowledge of a superior kind. They could be great leaders in such areas as Product Engineering, Research and Development, Innovation and the like. They could also make great Executive Assistants – loyal, sincere and devoted. Some could even get to head such functions as Internal Audit and Finance and prove to be a perennial pain-in-the-neck to all and sundry.

Such CEOs are saint-like souls who have to willy-nilly manage to keep their body and souls together. Driven by altruistic motives, their conduct is often an object of ridicule. Often, they happen to be known as GFN – Good for Nothing fellows.

Note: Inputs from Ms Somali K Chakrabarti are gratefully acknowledged. She can be found at Scribble and Scrawl (https://prepforum.wordpress.com)

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In an earlier post, we had looked at the various leadership styles which emerge from an upgraded Blake Mouton Grid which has three axes: Concern for Production, Concern for People and Concern for Ethics. One of the styles we came across was that of the Charmless Charlies.X Y Z upgraded

These are hapless souls who could not care less for getting results, or, for that matter, for the people who slog their butts out for them. Issues of ethics or improprieties involved in any decision-making do not appear to affect them.

They rank poorly on all the three dimensions – Concern for Production, Concern for People and Concern for Ethics. In terms of an upgraded Blake-Mouton Grid, they would earn a rating of 1,1,1. These are CEOs who, having reached their level of incompetence, exemplify the Peter Principle.

In large organizations, these could be very senior managers who carry a rich legacy of past accomplishments. Their sheen could have just started tapering off. Yet, their brand equity could be strong, owing to some unique strengths they bring to the table. They could have a networking prowess which could be useful to organizations having some skeletons in the cupboard. If shown the door unceremoniously, they could simply end up carrying a High Nuisance Value tag on themselves.

Managements have no other option but to kick them upstairs and park them in a harmless but dignified slot of the organization, duly assisted by a team of crack performers. The team members obviously do not carry a high opinion of their boss, utilizing him either for securing administrative clearances or for petty lobbying with the higher-ups.

OVERSTAYING ONE’S WELCOMEOnce the sunset phase of gratefulness and gracefulness gets over, managements ensure that such CEOs get eased out of the system without further delay. A grand farewell takes place, where everyone sings praises of the outgoing CEO. The latter, smug and pompous, makes all the right noises and fades into history, happily forgotten.

In smaller outfits, the sunset phase is much shorter and crisper. The exit is often harsh and swift, with a blue-eyed current favourite junior getting anointed as a successor. In case the organization has stopped growing, cost considerations provide a fresh lease of life to the junior who continues to bask in the glory of his newly acquired stardom. Over a period of time, strategic goals suffer, as does the level of excellence in the organization. Mediocrity rules the roost.

Well, one can only wish their organizations the best of luck!

What about you? Have you come across some Charmless Charlies in the course of your career?

(Related Post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2015/12/24/looking-for-ceos-inspired-by-the-yuletide-spirit)

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CEOs lead a challenging life. Apart from making and meeting long-term business goals, they face a relentless SQpressure, living from one quarter to the next. Customers have to be handled with kid gloves. Suppliers have to be kept in good humour. People have to be kept motivated at all times. Interpersonal conflicts between team members have to be sorted out. A lonely life has to be lived.

Unlike their juniors who invariably face Peer Pressure, CEOs face Pear Pressure. Some call it signs of prosperity. Some refer to it as a Battle of the Bulge. Others label it as flab around the waist.

The Battle of the Bulge

A CEO in possession of a portly disposition projects an image of a soul which has finally attained salvation and has become a super-hero of the species generally alluded to as managers. Walk into any gathering of the top dogs across most professions and one would be convinced that bosses are generally more portly than their bossed-over managers.

The smarter the top boss, the more he is likely to make his team members run around achieving targets. In the process, the juniors end up getting flatter tummies, a much-coveted attribute. In turn, hard-working subordinates often end up making their bosses lazier, with the latter ending up with convex-shaped protrusions in their midriffs.

Over 1.9 billion adults worldwide are overweight. Of these, some 600 million are further classified as obese. How does this come about? Lack of exercise is said to be the main culprit. Stress is yet another. Genetic factors take a part of the blame. Long working hours leading to lesser workouts get blamed.Exercise 1

Of decision-making and waistlines

Recently, a study by Australian universities has ended up linking decision-making to higher Body Mass Index.

According to researchers, people whose work days require constant decision-making are at greater risk of expanded waistlines. Conversely, workers who exercise control by regularly applying their skills to their jobs — known as skill discretion — were found to have lower Body Mass Index and a smaller waist size.

In other words, the researchers conclude that it is skinny people who are most often good at what they do and enjoy using their skills. However, those who have the power to make decisions are distinctly wider around the middle.

This justifies the derisive term Fat Cats often used to refer to those who control the levers of business. Admittedly, larger waistlines are perhaps a consequence of the CEOs’ sedentary job requirements instead of being the reason for their elevation to decision-making levels.

Perhaps further studies may reveal that weighty decisions need personal countervailing ballast in order to be balanced. It sounds as if power ends up making business leaders more expansive.

Beyond the Peter Principle

Concerned CEOs may wish further research to be designed in such a way as to establish the veracity of some Peters_principle.svgprinciples of the following kind:

1. A manager’s waistline is directly proportional to his position in any decision-making hierarchy.

2.  According to the Peter Principle, in any organization, employees rise to their level of incompetence. Further studies could confirm if their rise is also linked to the propensity of their bodies to achieve the maximum girth permitted by their constitution.

3.  Depending upon their Body Mass Index and the waistline, successful CEOs could be classified into three categories.
Potato CEOs: Those who have dazzled with their performance in the good old days. They have outgrown   the stage of feeling Pear Pressure.
Pear CEOs: Those who are currently guiding teams and delivering reasonably good results. The hapless souls are yet to come to terms with their pear-shaped midriffs.
Banana CEOs: Those who are good at planning as well as execution. They aspire to attain the status of Peer CEOs, without their bariatric blues.

4. For Potato CEOs, Pear CEOs are objects of envy. Likewise, Pear CEOs, howsoever reassured they might sound, secretly aspire to be like Banana CEOs, with concave-shaped bellies.

5. A hypothesis that can be put to test would be if the rate of rise in a hierarchy determines the rate of increase in waistlines.

6. All these propositions need to be cross-validated across different cultures and societies.

Such studies would enrich the science of Hierarchiology. These would be highly useful for head hunters as well as for Human Resource professionals. The insights gained thus would enable managers of all sizes and shapes to improve their quality of life.

Pear Pressure in organizations

Ironically, what is true of individual CEOs is also true of organizations.

The very successful and dynamic ones indulge in frequent bariatric surgeries and ensure that their midriffs remainZOO ORGANIZATIONS under strict control. They are acutely aware of Pear Pressure and have checks and balances in place to avoid carrying excessive flab.

The mediocre ones end up accumulating flab in the middle. At every success, they end up hiring more people than is necessary. At every failure, they undergo a liposuction procedure. They have learnt the art of managing Pear Pressure.

The not-so-successful organizations have the highest Body Mass Index. They are replete with massive layers in their hierarchies. Their processes are bogged down with archaic procedures. Most public sector undertakings are shining examples of this kind.

This is THE challenge all CEOs need to fight single-handedly. They have to wage a relentless war on adipose tissue of all kinds. Unless they decide to take the matter in their own hands, literally as well as metaphorically, the excess belly fat – whether on their own personas or in their organizations – would refuse to melt away.

(Reference: http://www.theweek.in/news/sci-tech/how-your-job-could-be-influencing-your-waistline-study.html)

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Hire a quality expert who is practical and does not live in an ivory tower, or else your billings may nosedive and your entire manufacturing team may end up doing only rework.

In the services sector, quality invariably means an extension of the core job being done. A shipping agent who keeps you updated of the status of a shipment at all times is a delight to work with; so is a dentist who sends you a discreet s-m-s reminding you of your appointment that evening.

To quote Dr. Laurence J Peter and Raymond Hull: “……man cannot achieve his greatest fulfilment through seeking quantity for quantity’s sake; he will achieve it through improving the quality of life, in other words, through avoiding life-incompetence.”



Quite a few times, a team leader has to let go of his quantitative obsession and take a decision off the seat of his pants. A crucial input to decision-making is intuition and gut feel. In turn, intuition and gut feel get sharpened over a period of time by the sheer availability of good quality quantitative data.



A well designed questionnaire is an important tool in any research project. It pays to pre-test one before freezing it. However, in case of behavioural and attitudinal studies, a structured interview approach works much better.


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Whenever you pass by the desk of a colleague in office and see him staring with blank eyes at nothing in particular, you may 'The Thinker' : Rodinbe wrong in assuming that he is either worried about his upcoming annual appraisal or concerned about the academic performance of his kids. For all you know, like Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’, he could simply be withdrawn into himself, in a rather introspective mood, and trying to unravel life’s managerial mysteries which appear unfathomable at normal times.

One of the profound mysteries is that of facilitating innovation. History of major breakthroughs tells us of at least one factor which prompted the coveted ‘Aha!’ moment – a spot of idleness. Not the kind of idleness which is a trademark of laziness, but the dynamic type where the mind, firing at all six cylinders, suddenly decides to take a break, looks at its own self in a detached manner, delves into the realms of the sub-conscious and comes up with a gem of wisdom which had eluded it so far at the conscious level.

Some Unforgettable ‘Aha!’ Moments

Rewind to around 250 BC. If Archimedes had not decided to take some time off and soak himself in a bath tub, possibly playing with some floating toy ducks and singing along in a leisurely fashion – much to the discomfiture of his neighbors, world would have surely missed great many developments so far. There would have been no boats and ships. Countries the world over would have been dependent only on their foot soldiers and armies to defend their borders. At a more mundane level, the streets of ancient Syracuse would have missed the sight of a guy in his birthday suit running along, shouting ‘Eureka’ in gay abandon.

Visualize this scenario in 1666 AD. Newton has once again retired from Cambridge. In a contemplative mood, he is taking a leisurely stroll at Lincolnshire, in an apple orchard ostensibly owned by his mother. He has just been enjoying some tea which has had a remarkably invigorating effect on his grey matter. He sees an apple falling to the earth and starts wondering why it always has to fall down, an observation which lesser mortals like you and I would have merely shrugged off and resumed our walk. He gets down to doing some calculations and ends up giving to the inhabitants of Earth a great theory on forces of gravitation. Goes on to show what a relaxing cup of tea sipped in quiet repose in an apple orchard can accomplish.

Einstein, who left us as late as 1955 AD, was much impressed by the violin sonatas of Mozart and used to play chamber music. An inspiration for all those who suffer from absent-minded professor-itis, he pushed the frontiers of knowledge to mind-boggling levels at that point in time. History does not record a particular ‘Aha!’ moment when the theory of relativity got discovered, but the connection between the paradigm shift in our understanding of the universe and his love for music and the soothing effect it has on one’s grey matter can be readily understood. There is no doubt that the great man did not find the environment of the Swiss Patent Office conducive enough for innovative thinking.

Contemplative Downtime   

A common thread running through all these events is the presence of a unique ‘Aha!’ moment of illuminating thought, undoubtedly facilitated by a phase of idleness. Some scientists in California now say that even lesser mortals can benefit from a spot of daydreaming. This goes on to prove – if proof was ever needed – that sitting idle is not wasteful, as many whip-cracking CEOs would have us believe. A vast majority of managers, workers and students would heartily attest to the fact that difficult assignments are handled much better if only preceded by a spot of contemplative downtime. This way, they are likely to envision a more productive approach to the issue at hand, resulting into substantial savings for the organization they serve. As Tom Hodgkinson says, ‘The art of living is the art of bringing dreams and reality together’.

Globally, managements need to seriously look at the utility of mental downtime when the thinking faculties are allowed to wander freely. Rather than mistaking hectic physical activity for real efficiency and effectiveness on the job, most bosses heading a team of innovators and developers typically create a work culture which facilitates a contemplative mood. They also perfect the art of refraining from micromanaging. Nor do they abdicate. They lead simply by inspiring and standing up for their team members, whenever necessary. The result is an exponential jump in the much-coveted ‘Aha!’ moment for their team members.

Does A Rigid Hierarchy Stifle Innovation?

It has been shown that under favorable circumstances, problem solving abilities tend to improve by as much as 40%! If such moves are introduced, and further backed by tea/coffee breaks, the results could be even better. High time some ad honchos took up this clue and designed some clever TV spots for companies marketing these beverages!

In India, where the propensity to innovate appears to have diminished substantially compared to what it used to be in the Aryabhatta days, this proposition deserves far more serious thought. Perhaps our national laboratories, centers of excellence and R&D institutions need to work more days, but provide for additional tea/coffee breaks and exciting vacation binges. Going in for flatter organizations devoid of strict hierarchy could also lead to better quality of informal interactions, thereby increasing the productivity and rate of innovation. The Peter Principle is proof that organizations which put a higher premium on seniority are more likely to have a dismal record in the realm of innovation.

The Power of Daydreaming

Scientists may now claim to have discovered that the rejuvenating powers of officially sanctioned breaks are reduced if people skip off-times and use these to perform other equally demanding tasks. But the power of dynamic daydreaming was never in doubt. Our grand-parents have always held that ‘All work and no play make Jack a dull boy’!

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