The Peter Principle Strikes When Leading New Leaders

New York – You’re trying to define requirements with a client for what appears to be a straight-forward assignment. It isn’t going so well, as everything is a factor in the definition process and everything is in scope for the project. It’s difficult even focusing in on key objectives. How many times have we faced this situation? But to the client with whom you’re interacting, the project is complex; he’s not helping anything by amplifying all organizational, timing, budgetary and other factors, and is probably including ones The Pareto Principle Meets the Peter Principle that aren’t real factors. Is he wrong? No, but he is probably demonstrating a manifestation of post-decision rationalization, of allowing external non-core factors to influence the process, and of course, of the Peter Principle. There are some simple things we need to consider as we try to get through this difficult client exercise.

In financial analyses, we talk of hard (tangible) and soft (intangible) costs. Similarly, the known constraints of a project are tangible: objectives, budget, timeline, resources, and so forth. The intangible constraints are the ones we’re concerned with in this article. Those intangible factors very much exist and are often equally or more contributory to a result than the tangible ones. We’ll group these intangibles into three factors, which helps to determine the level of complexity of any assignment. Attention to these does not negate hard and fast constraints, such as an incontrovertible deadline, but you’ll be amazed at how much rigidity melts away by attention to them. The factors are:

  1. Post-decision rationalization
  2. Apparently meaningless external factors
  3. The Peter Principle.

Without getting too deep into the whole Free Will vs. Determinism debate, there are some things you should consider. In “Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain,” Science (Nature) 2008, by Soon, Brass, Heinze & Haynes, an examination was done regarding which areas of the brain experience activities for a particular action. For example: