Anti-patterns are common counter-effective behavioral responses to classes of problems or situations. Some anti-patterns are specific to individuals, some to groups, and some appear for both individuals and groups. Generally, anti-patterns differ from behavioral dysfunctions, which are also counter-effective, but which are usually associated with intellectual disabilities or psychological disorders.
The Peter Principle is an example of a group anti-pattern. It is the tendency for people in organizations to be promoted to the level of their incompetence. That is, organizations tend to advance the careers of individuals until they reach a level at which their performance is substandard, which leads to populating staff ranks with people who can't do their jobs. Another anti-pattern is the Identified Patient, who is the person identified by the group — usually incorrectly — as being the cause of its problems.
For any anti-pattern, five attributes are of interest.
- An anti-pattern's indicators signal its presence. For the Peter Principle, one indicator might be incompetence in managerial ranks.
- Any anti-pattern can have multiple causes. For the Peter Principle, one cause is that organizations tend to promote individuals based on their demonstrated performance in their current role, rather than an assessment of their fitness for the intended role. If at some level of advancement, their performance becomes substandard, advancement usually halts.
- What mechanisms create anti-patterns can differ from what sustains them. Sustaining factors Helping the organization root out
a specific anti-pattern is an
admirable goal, if your organizational
responsibilities include such activityinclude mechanisms that help it to survive or repeat despite its obvious counter-effectiveness. For the Peter Principle, in family businesses, for example, resistance to discharging incompetent employees can arise from a desire to maintain the livelihood of the incompetent family member. In government, political party loyalty can be a resistance-generating factor. In business, reluctance to discharge can occur when the consequences of the incompetence are subtle enough, or when they can be concealed.
- Defenses and workarounds
- It's helpful to know how to defend yourself against anti-patterns that represent threats to safety, relationships, emotional health, or career. For example, if you're the identified patient, begin by understanding that you aren't the cause of the group's troubles, and that you don't have to accept the designation. Then you can begin to search for the actual cause — or the actual causes — of the group's problems. And it's also helpful to know how to avoid an anti-pattern, or how to evade it.
- Helping the organization root out a specific anti-pattern is an admirable goal, if your organizational responsibilities include such activity. Determine first whether the needed actions are within your charter. If the issue is yours to address, what you do depends on the nature of the problem. Otherwise, you must choose whether to accept the situation as is, or bring it to the attention of someone who is empowered to act on it, or move on. It's a difficult choice.
In future issues we'll explore anti-patterns with this framework. In the queue already are Warlords; Ready, Fire, Aim; Utility Pole; Financial Nearsightedness; Refrigerator Territoriality; and Performance Review Revenge. Let me know if there's something special you'd like me to address. Top Next Issue
Is every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info
For more about the Peter Principle, check out Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull, The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong, New York: William Morrow and Company, 1969. Order from Amazon.com. We should note that the Peter Principle was first enunciated in the 1960s, when involuntary terminations were much less common than they are today. So although examples of the Peter Principle were more common 50 or 60 years ago, they are still in evidence.
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbreniNqmmVclmQgsAEqTner@ChacsJJFmNdVQiMhwaQXoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Decisions, Decisions: I
- Most of us have participated in group decision-making. The process can be frustrating and painful, but
it can also be thrilling. What processes do groups use to make decisions? How do we choose the right
process for the job?
- My Right Foot
- There's nothing like an injury or illness to teach you some life lessons. Here are some things I learned
recently when I temporarily lost some of my independence.
- Excuses, Excuses
- When a goal remains unaccomplished, we sometimes tell ourselves that we understand why. And sometimes
we do. But at other times, we're just fooling ourselves.
- The Reification Error and Performance Management
- Just as real concrete objects have attributes, so do abstract concepts, or constructs. But attempting
to measure the attributes of constructs as if they were the attributes of real objects is an example
of the reification error. In performance management, committing this error leads to unexpected and unwanted
- Wacky Words of Wisdom: V
- Adages, aphorisms, and "words of wisdom" are true often enough that we accept them as universal.
They aren't. Here's Part V of some widely held beliefs that mislead us at work.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming August 22: Dealing with Credit Appropriation
- Very little is more frustrating than having someone else claim credit for the work you do. Worse, sometimes they blame you if they get into trouble after misusing your results. Here are three tips for dealing with credit appropriation. Available here and by RSS on August 22.
- And on August 29: Please Reassure Them
- When things go wildly wrong, someone is usually designated to investigate and assess the probability of further trouble. That role can be risky. Here are three guidelines for protecting yourself if that role falls to you. Available here and by RSS on August 29.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenuaXVScsaxiSvozqfner@ChacQRPJVXfYowzqQzKroCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, USD 28.99)
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.