Putting an end to over-promotion

It is our sincere hope that the next Government is formed with the “Peter Principle” in mind.

The name comes from a satirical 1969 work of the same title by Laurence J Peter.

The book says the reason why many organisations stagnate and then decline is because people are promoted above their ideas and their capabilities.

In essence, a good mechanic can be promoted to workshop manager. The fellow may be competent when it comes to tinkering with a car engine, but at the same time wholly incompetent at managing people who tinker with engines.

As such, a good human resource is rewarded with a post he/she cannot handle.

Unfortunately, people are not fired for incompetence as often as they should be. This may also be the result of appointing authority refusing to acknowledge, for whatever reason, that they over-promoted someone.

Some people are aware that they have been over-promoted. They turn down the appointment or do the dignified thing and resign.

Most, however, succumb to the very human desire to rise. And so they accept jobs they know they cannot do.

The cleverer incompetents learn the art and science of “creative incompetence” to help them survive their over-promotion.

They will come to work before everyone else and leave last, even if they are not really doing anything.

They will rephrase what other people say in meetings so that they appear to be in tune. They will put on serious faces as they peruse financial statements that may as well be written in Greek as far as their cognitive capacity is concerned. Yet another group of over-promoted people will exhibit what in psychology is known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect, so named by David Dunning and Justin Kruger.

This is a cognitive bias in which people who are clearly incompetent at something completely fail to see that they are incompetent.

They even go further and believe that they are competent when it is apparent to the rest of the world they are incompetent. And so everyone endures the appointment until retirement or mortal decline take both the organisation and the over-promoted individual out of this corporate misery.

Laurence J Peter cynically summarises it thus: “In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.”

The Peter Principle applies to states in as much as it applies to corporate entities.

But unlike in business where sometimes the worst that happens is lower revenue, in public administration the promotion of people to their level of incompetence can kill a nation.

Which is why it was refreshing to hear President Emmerson Mnangagwa last week saying his Cabinet would appointed on merit as he met Zanu-PF’s 2018 elections winning candidates.

He said, “This time when we choose our Cabinet, we will look closely on who occupies this position and that position. So comrades, we have a lot of work to do ahead despite the fact that you won or you lost.

“If you lost, work hard and if you won work hard as well to retain your position. We shall plan amongst ourselves here (at the top table) to see those who will work full-time at the party to ensure that our party remains strong.”

In short, there will be no over-promotion of MPs to Cabinet.

Being a good grassroots campaigner for a legislative seat does not qualify anyone to be a good Cabinet minister.

What Zimbabwe needs is a strong executive that blends appropriate skills, experience and political savvy.

There exists the possibility that many legislators are ill-suited for national executive office.

This is in no way to demean them. It is simply an acknowledgement that they are good politicians but not necessarily good minders of portfolios that should function optimally to deliver a middle-income economy by 2030.

The challenge, as we have pointed out before in The Sunday Mail, is that the President must select just about all his ministers from Parliament.

The Constitution only allows him to make five Cabinet picks from outside the National Assembly and Senate.

Well, Zanu-PF has a two-thirds majority in Parliament and can amend the Constitution to empower the President to pick a winning team from amongst all Zimbabweans.

This will ensure the President is not forced to over-promote good politicians and foist ministerial responsibility on their under-qualified shoulders.

We pray that our MPs are acquainted with both the Peter Principle and the Dunning-Kruger Effect so that they do the right thing for themselves, their children and their country.

For Zimbabwe to develop, it requires an administration that is steered by people who know where our nation ought to be and not just merely where it wants to be. The onus is on the President-elect and Parliament to do the right thing and create the environment we need to take Zimbabwe where it should be.

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