Our society is changing by the day, and one of the concepts that are becoming obsolete and has historically lacked appreciation is our need for savants. A term not commonly used, a savant is a way to refer to someone who is a distinguished expert in their craft. More specifically, a savant may lack skill in the most well-known areas, but they are a genius at whatever their trade may be. We are taught from a young age now that one must be versatile, widely educated and professionally diverse. There isn’t a level of prestige associated with specialization, and because of that, our workforce suffers from the Peter Principle.
The Peter Principle is a management concept developed by Laurence Peter in 1968. It is an observation that in a hierarchy, people tend to rise to “their level of incompetence”, indicating that as employees are promoted within an organization, they become less effective and increasingly incompetent. It makes sense if you think about it. An employee does well and therefore, you promote them. They excel in their new position which in turn leads to another promotion. When does the promoting stop? When they are no longer preeminent at their job. So you are then left with an average or more likely inept employee. Not only is this unfair to the organization but it is wrong to do to an employee as well. So how do we put a stop to this societal normative and create a new culture in the modern workforce? We change preconceived and learned perceptions.
Business owners, leaders, employees, and people entering the workforce need to associate more prestige with being an individual contributor. A person’s position in a hierarchy does not define their knowledge of the industry or level of contribution. Leaders need to design recognition systems and compensation structures in a way that doesn’t incentivize abandoning a position one is excellent at in order to climb the organizational ladder or increase salary. This is a deeply rooted issue that needs fixing on many levels including our education system, values and how we choose careers. Trade specialization is nearly obsolete and it is not that there aren’t experts out there, it’s that even if someone is highly skilled in something, they are taught from a young age that they will not be successful if they fully invest in that skill. Which leads to these gifted individuals moving up into management or other areas of their industries, often times putting them in positions of guaranteed failure.
The next thing that needs to change is the urge to elevate successful employees to seemingly “higher” positions. The first step in doing this is to start evaluating job candidates for their potential fit in the new position rather than their performance in their previous position. For example, an employee succeeding in a sales executive position gives zero indication they will be a good leader. Set up evaluation criteria that is pertinent to the job. Of course, you can take into consideration the employees work ethic and your previous experience working together, but make sure when you are making the decision to promote that you are doing so for appropriate reasons.
In the end, turnover costs are too high to be promoting employees into positions they will fail at. Take into consideration the Peter Principle when making promotional positions, respect individual contributors/specialized workers more and choose job candidates for the right reasons.
annihilate tHReats, piQue advantageousness.