OverwhelmedWe made it- 12/21/12 is several weeks behind us! If you wondered, even for a minute, if 2012 might have marked the end of the need to worry about HR — sorry … 2013 is here and HR issues are alive and kicking.

One tough HR issue is dealing with those who aren’t contributing at the level the business needs. Sometimes this issue is a lack of desire or burnout, bur often it comes from something that Laurence Peter and Raymond Hull in 1969 called “The Peter Principle:’ For those unfamiliar with it, The Peter Principle is a description of what happens when a person is promoted or moved into a role that is too far beyond his current abilities. In large organizations, someone may be promoted prematurely. In small to mid-sized organizations, it commonly occurs as the organization grows faster than people in it, and, suddenly, Sam, who was doing a fantastic job as Sales Manager, is failing as Regional Sales Vice President.

Overlooking this mismatch compounds the matter as we secretly hope that the person will “get better” and the situation will go away. Reality check-ignoring problems almost never works . . . not with finances, not with health, and not with human resources. In fact, ignoring the problem or, better yet, pretending it doesn’t really exist, means that we have to invent other explanations for the facts at hand. We can tell Maria that we made a mistake and promoted her into a role for which she does not have the skills, or we can pretend that she has the skills and simply is not choosing to use them, which calls into question her work ethic and character.

What do we do with a Peter Principle? The remedies are simple, but take courage to implement.

1. Identify Peter. An individual who has “Peter Principled” can present in various ways-overwhelmed, procrastinating, defensive, blaming, physically ill-all ways of covering and deflecting the real issue that the work is too complex. Not everyone exhibiting these kinds of behaviors is a ‘Peter,’ but you are suspicious, invest time in consistent observation. Is the individual a poor time manager or truly out of his depth?

2. Check your anger. By definition, a Peter had been around for a while and has d one some good things in the past. Our feelings of loyalty and friendship often get tangled up in the growing recognition that the individual cannot do the current job and, to make it easier on ourselves, instead of getting sad, we get angry. Why can’t they understand? Why won’t they ask for help? Why won’t the just apply themselves a little more?

Let me share something here about people…they can tell when you’re angry. In my experience, people may not know why you’re angry, but they will recognize that you are, and they will react to you accordingly. Instead, admit to yourself that it is an unfortunate situation for which you are partially to blame and which you must address.

3. Consider the options. Could the person grown into the role with specific coaching and training and, if so, are you willing to invest in it, either yourself or through a coach? Most coaching that provides long term results must take place over a period of months. Do you have that kind of time? What roles are available in your organization? Is there another role that is a better fit?

4. Be honest.  Once you are certain you are facing a Peter and you have identified your options, be prepared to have an honest conversation. Discuss what the position requires, the gaps you see and the options you are willing to consider. All of us like to have a choice, so, when possible, provide at least two options.

Dealing with a Peter is never fun, but facing it head on will always bring better results than ignoring it. We know when we’re not performing. Having everyone pretend that everything is fine is just as draining as acknowledging that we’re in too deep. At least admitting I’m in too deep gets me a shot at being rescued. When you reflect on your team, where do you need to admit that the problem isn’t going away and this New Year needs to bring some new options? Now, what are you going to do about it?