Reasons New Managers and Supervisors Fail: The Peter Principle

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Today we begin a series exploring the top five reasons that new managers or supervisors fail in their new position. Joe Kerschner, Founder and President of American Water College, has observed this phenomenon over the course of his career in Water and Wastewater Treatment and Management. The concept is not unfamiliar to the management world in general; it’s known as the Peter Principle.





The Peter Principle is a concept in management theory in which the selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate’s performance in their current role rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role. Thus, employees only stop being promoted once they can no longer perform effectively, and “managers rise to the level of their incompetence.”


In a report addressing this very issue, Joe writes: “Here’s how it goes. ‘Supervisor Bill’ decides to retire after holding his supervisory position with the company for 23 years.  He is a ‘people person’ who has the respect of everyone in the organization.  Then, after the retirement party, it happens.  Management decides to promote Jim to replace Bill.  Jim is an operator who is highly skilled and competent at his craft. He has been with the company for 15 years and has patiently waited his turn.  Management rationalizes that because he is such a good and conscientious operator, surely he will make a good Operations Supervisor.

This scenario plays out all too often in thousands of organizations each and every year – and Public Works and Water Works Departments are not immune to it.  It’s not Jim’s fault that he headed for failure.  He’s been set up for failure by his company who neglected to properly prepare him and train him for his new position.  The irony in all of this is that it doesn’t have to go down this way. It’s possible to break the chain that perpetuates the ‘Peter Principle.’ The skills required to be successful as a supervisor are all learned skills that good, conscientious people are capable of learning.”

Lead-and-learnIn our next post, we will begin exploring the 5 reasons that new managers and supervisors fail. American Water College has partnered with California State University, Fresno to provide training that will help new supervisors and managers transition into their new job; contact us today to see how we can help you succeed in your management position!