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We Shouldn’t Promote People Based on Merit

Posted by Alex Drexel on December 23, 2009

Researchers have recently done some modeling around various approaches to determining promotions – they have discovered that randomly promoting people v.s. those who perform well in their current jobs results in a more effective organization.  They say this is due to the Peter Principal, where people who add considerable value in the organization are promoted out of the jobs they excel at and into those they can’t handle – performance in their previous job wasn’t a good predictor for performance at the next level.

So I’m ready to put my employee number in a hat, how about you?

All kidding aside, I think this preferable state of randomness reveals an opportunity for software vendors – the challenge is to dig deeper into HRMS data so that true indicators for future performance can be established and surfaced when the time comes to decide who should move up.

You can check out the NYT article here:


4 Responses to “We Shouldn’t Promote People Based on Merit”

  1. Thanks for posting this, I like it. As I topic, I mean. I don’t agree with the article, however. The alternative to the Peter Principle, which certainly has its faults, is the Dilbert Principle, which I believe has more faults because what it comes down to is promoting people who are NOT good at their jobs to manage the people who are. At least people promoted for competence were once good at something. Seriously though, I agree with you that there’s an opportunity here to identify real leadership qualities and promote for those.

  2. Meg Bear said

    Alex what a great find! I would also like to suggest that we need to get out of the idea that promtion is a reward for doing a good job. That’s not helping anyone. Promotion is a way to align talent with job requirements. I think “The Leadership Pipeline” book does a great job of explaining why different levels of leadership require different skills. We should look to that to help us decide what we need in specific roles before we go looking to promote anyone.

    So, I not only want to put my name in the spinner but I also want to come up with some additional types of awards to address the real need of rewarding top performance, while avoiding the promotion trap. I’m guessing not everyone will take to my idea of giving out Leg Lamps but I can’t say I will give up on that idea either.

  3. joel garry said

    Some of us like what we do and other people think we are amazingly good at it, make more money than our bosses or the HR people, and really don’t want to be “promoted.” Would it be possible to be left alone?

  4. […] team at TalentedApps discusses why We Shouldn’t Promote People Based on Merit, highlighting some research that indicates randomly promoting people results in a more effective […]

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