In the field of management, there are two principles about incompetence that every manager must know.

First is the Peter Principle.

The Peter Principle is the principle that “in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to their level of incompetence”.

One good example in the IT industry is when good developers are promoted to management positions. It would be good if those developers have good management skills, but most of the time they’re not really suited for managing people.

This produces two unpleasant side-effects: first, the company gets an incompetent manager, and second, the company loses a good developer.

There are a bunch of ways to get around this problem. One good approach is to make it culturally acceptable inside the company to remain a developer, like having separate career ladders for developers and managers. Most of the time, the only reason why a developer wants to be promoted to a manager is because the latter pays more and gets better perks. With a career ladder for developers, those developers can instead choose to remain developers and still be able to get promoted to a position with better perks (e.g. senior developer).

Another way to get around the Peter Principle is to carefully manage how developers are promoted to management positions. This can involve screening (only those people that show potential in managing are considered) and dedicated training. At the worst case, they company should be able to own up for their failed judgment in case they promoted the wrong person to a management role.

The second principle is the Dunning–Kruger effect.

Kruger and Dunning proposed that, for a given skill, incompetent people will:

  1. tend to overestimate their own level of skill;
  2. fail to recognize genuine skill in others;
  3. fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy;
  4. recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they can be trained to substantially improve.

In other words, incompetent people tend to be incompetent enough that they don’t realize their incompetence.

While the Wikipedia article goes on to say that this effect is prevalent in North American subjects, it shouldn’t take much to see that this effect is also evident among Filipino workers (no thanks to our pwede na attitude).

Ironically (or coincidentally?), a good number of “managers” I’ve met aren’t aware of these principles.

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