The Peter Principle is destroying our newspapers

Although newspapers across the country are playing a grand game of layoff bingo with their employees, not many of the bow ties on the upper floors are worrying about their salaries and bonuses. And they should: a new study just came out that indicates the upper echelon of many megacorpconglomeranationals are really the individuals who are incompetent.

And how could anyone disagree? The Peter Principle made the matter clear back in 1968:

In a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Rise to His Level of Incompetence.

The bow ties can’t go any higher, but their legacy of micromanagement and incompetence sure lives on . . . and trickles straight down to Middle Management, where it oozes out of their cubicles like pus from a boil. Derailment is the norm, where good work is ignored, kissing ass is rewarded, and managers maintain their own, petty, power-sustaining agendas in a never-ending series of turfwars.

Yes, the workplace in most metro dailies really is out of Dilbert.

Here’s the email I got that explains it all in business-ese:

Leadership Risk Analysis

The flagging economy may have soul mates on your company’s executive board. According to “Leaders Without Sea Legs: Threats to Staying Afloat During Tough Times,” a new white paper from Development Dimensions International (DDI), your company’s leaders also may be its worst enemies. Here are key findings from the report, which analyzed information about the performance of 3,623 executives who participated in DDI assessment centers around the world, and some tips to take away:

• Nearly three of 10 executives (29 percent) are deficient in their ability to drive execution. In addition, two in 10 (20 percent) are strong or moderately strong candidates for derailing due to a lack of discipline. Combining the assessment and personality data (and eliminating overlaps), 43 percent of the executives are at risk of being “hit-or-miss” leaders. Thus, the report states, “there is a high threat to the organization from executives who fail to take full operational control.”

• Assessors rated only a few leaders (8 percent) in serious need of an effective executive bearing. However, another 19 percent are at a high or moderately high risk for being emotionally unpredictable under pressure.

• Some 26 percent of executives are at high or moderately high risk of derailing by remaining detached from others. There also is a moderate risk that leaders will be too downbeat to inspire a sense of optimism about the organization’s future.

• More than one-third of the sample (34 percent) have a development need in the competency of empowerment. Exacerbating this lack of skill are tendencies to micromanage (20 percent at high or moderately high risk of derailing) or poor interpersonal relations (14 percent at high or moderately high risk of derailing).

Companies can do the following to keep these undesirable leadership profiles from emerging:

• Explain and discuss the impact of derailing personality patterns on key business drivers. For example, if your business needs to identify cost controls or innovative ways to generate sales, consider the impact of a leader with an arrogant derailing tendency. If the leader acts like a know-it-all in meetings, dominates the discussion, and prevents others’ good ideas from surfacing, he or she becomes a barrier to generating effective solutions.

• Ensure leaders have a 100-day action plan that identifies their derailers and specifies the actions needed to manage those behaviors. The plan should be reinforced with processes such as time frames, required support (e.g., coaches), and measures to indicate improvement.

• Heighten self-awareness and sustain improvement in managing derailers by creating an open environment and ensuring leaders have feedback skills. “A leadership team that understands each others’ derailment tendencies and the skills and receptivity to provide feedback,” the report notes, “will be more successful avoiding situations that trigger potentially destructive behaviors and their associated business execution flaws.”

3 thoughts on “The Peter Principle is destroying our newspapers

  1. One imagines that this study really applies across all industries, and not just publishing or parent companies.The U.S. auto industry and newspaper business are experiencing similar fates: Both have been rendered obsolete by superior foreign products and electronic media, respectively. Applying While The Peter Principle did indeed contribute to their inability to adapt to a changing market, it is also impacting the shortfalls of other industries as well. Good data, though. Interesting to know that emotional responses of executives are unpredictable. Maybe that’s why all those stock brokers jumped out of windows in 1929.


  2. Your initial paragraph is correct. Because this research applies so closely to upper management in the newspaper industry, I ran with it.The Dilbert Paradigm crosses all industrial boundaries.


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