Promoted to Your Level Of Incompetence
After my experiences with Friendface and Mr. Data, I started to notice something. The people who were climbing up the ladder to management were not the best workers. Friendface, for example, was not nearly as technically gifted as many of my ticket closing peers.
Quite the contrary, the people who managed to get promoted were mediocre performers who:
- Drank the kool aid
- Got comfy with management themselves, hanging out with people above them at any given opportunity
- Went to every function
- Focused on visibility and perception (e.g. speaking up in every meeting even when what they were saying was not valuable just so they’d be noticed)
- Made their intention to be management well-known
- Aggressively evangelized all solutions offered by the company
- Don’t question jack
- Assumed a dreamy, unfocused look in their eyes when gushing about anyone above them in the corporate hierarchy
Note that it doesn’t take any intellect whatsoever to excel at the above. All it takes is parceling out your individuality, bit by bit, until you have become an authentic extension of your employer.
Later, I realized my observations were in line with the Dilbert Principle (AKA The Peter Principle) which states that folks are promoted to their level of incompetence.
“I wrote The Dilbert Principle around the concept that in many cases the least competent, least smart people are promoted, simply because they’re the ones you don’t want doing actual work. You want them ordering the doughnuts and yelling at people for not doing their assignments—you know, the easy work. Your heart surgeons and your computer programmers—your smart people—aren’t in management. That principle was literally happening everywhere.”
That sounds about right — it certainly explains everything I was seeing with two of my three managers. Folks are promoted until they reach a core level of incompetence. At this point, it becomes impossible to remove them, and they continue to do a bad job in their position for an indefinite duration, making life hell for everyone under them.
If Friendface was a little brighter and more interested in the well being of his team, he wouldn’t have lost me.
The following week I called HR for the first time in my life. I asked for a private meeting to talk about a conflict with management.
I knew immediately that Friendface had been tipped off. HR is supposed to be “completely confidential” but I didn’t get a single new ticket between that initial call and our scheduled touchpoint. Normally I get a minimum of 5 a day. Someone told Friendface that I had an issue, and so I was, in turn, pulled off the queue. Incidentally, this was the first sign in my professional life that HR, in many companies, does not represent the interest of their employees. They’re essentially a legal wing of the company. Their primary job is to protect stakeholders — not employees.
At any rate, there could be no doubt that Friendface thought I was going to complain about him. And sure, I could have, but ultimately I decided to not get into details. I didn’t want to be labeled a poison or troublemaker. Instead, I simply said I’d made the wrong move when going to his team. I wanted to go back and work for my previous manager, Mr. Data. The phrase I repeated was It’s not a good fit. The HR rep asked several times what the source of the conflict was, and I insisted there absolutely no issues between us. I just didn’t want seek his approval to switch teams and wasn’t sure why it was necessary.
It’s my personal decision, I said.
You know this is effectively a demotion, HR replied.
Yep. Can you do it?
Of course they can do it. Companies can hand out demotions all day.
It was an enormous relief. The job was still the job — a wasteland of suck, as you’re now aware — but at least I wouldn’t be working for an emotional manager whose actions I could not accurately predict. With Mr. Data, at least I knew what to expect. All he cared about were my numbers, and I knew how to deliver what he needed.