Peter Principle x’s 2

The (in)famous Peter Principle, developed by some dude named, who else, Peter, has been around for decades, and still valid.  The principle refers to the idea that employees in an organization are eventually promoted to their level of incompetence.  In other words, we all have certain skill sets, we excel at those skills, then eventually promoted to positions exceeding our talents and abilities.

Employees are promoted for many reasons; tenure, outstanding performance, loyalty and trustworthiness, or an immediate need.  Organizations also tend to outgrow the skill sets of many employees.  Of course we learn, stretch, grow, do more.  But we all are not CEOs (except of our own lives).  We level out somewhere and excel at something. Many entrepreneurs start, then grow, businesses beyond their skills as managers of the organizations they’ve founded — a kind of Peter Principle in reverse.

This past week I learned of another Peter Principle, a Chinese version, somewhat different. One of our neighboring garment factories was founded and is run by a Chinese guy who’s English name is Peter.  He happened to be at dinner the other evening with a couple of us, during which, he expounded on his philosophy of running and controlling an effective (Chinese) workforce.  Chinese Peter’s principle goes like this: A workforce can be effectively maintained by treating all employees fairly.  And, if for any reason an employee disagrees with that definition of fairness, you f**k them good (hence keeping everyone in line by showing others what happens when [your idea of] fairness is challenged).

I’m fairly certain that Chinese Peter does not know about the original Peter Principle.  It didn’t sound like there was too much promoting going on, except for his idea of fairness.

I’m also fairly certain that both Peter Principles could not coexist in an organization, unless you ran it, your name was Peter, and you came up with a 3rd principle.  If so, it might go something like this: I’m giving you a fair promotion and expect that you will perform the job well.  If not, I’ll f**k you good.

The trick, for brands of any product in countries where production is attractive, is understanding the principles being practiced in the factories where their goods are being made.  It’s not so easy, thanks to Peter.