The Peter Principle and Employee Engagement

I was talking with an HR Professional last night about the unfortunate practice of promoting people into positions for which they are not suited as a reward for good performance, the impact of this practice on employee engagement, and the potential negative effect on performance.

You know the story. A great “technician” is rewarded for his performance by being promoted to “manager.” Now, the great technician is expected to manage other technicians. Usually, there is little significant thought given to assessing the person’s ability to manage, his interest in managing, or the environment in which he will be required to manage. Talk about a recipe for disaster!

I’ve experienced this (though never committed the act myself) and it is never pretty. It is a near perfect case study in “we meant well,” which is code for “we tried and failed.”

The typical result: an ineffective and frustrated new manager, upset and less engaged employees, a decrease in performance, and (sometimes) the loss of one or more key employees. It’s a well-documented fact that the biggest driver of employee turnover is problems with a manager.

So how do you avoid punishing good performers by promoting them out of their skill/success zone and into a role they may not want and, worse, are not equipped to perform?

Know what they want!

How do you do that?

Ask them!

Seems simple doesn’t it?

If you have one or more people working for you, you should know what they find rewarding and motivating by asking them. You don’t need a book of a gazillion ways to reward your employees. You need a few good rewards from the horse’s mouth.

Once you have each employee’s list, try to incorporate these things into their work flow and environment to the best of your (and your budget’s) ability. Set clear expectations about what is and isn’t doable. This is especially true for people you are considering promoting into “management.”

If you need help equipping your managers to increase employee engagement, call 516.216.4233 or send an e-mail to I’d be happy to talk with you about your unique situation.

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