Study: Most Efficient Organizations Grab Random Employees, Promote Them

Lg Nobel

Want to make your company more efficient? Don’t promote people based on merit–do it at random. That’s the conclusion of a study from Alessandro Pluchino and his team at the Universitá di Catania. Pluchino’s study is one of the winner’s of this year’s Ig Nobel prize, a parody of the Nobel Prize given by the Annals of Improbable Research for achievements that “first make people laugh, and then make them think.”

The efficiency study is based on the Peter principle, a principle named after Canadian psychologist Laurence J. Peter that postulates, “Every new member in a hierarchical organization climbs the
hierarchy until he/she reaches his/her level of maximum incompetence.”

The study explains:

Here we show, by means of agent based
simulations, that if the latter two features actually hold in a given
model of an organization with a hierarchical structure, then not only
is the Peter principle unavoidable, but also it yields in turn a
significant reduction of the global efficiency of the organization.
Within a game theory-like approach, we explore different promotion
strategies and we find, counterintuitively, that in order to avoid such
an effect the best ways for improving the efficiency of a given
organization are either to promote each time an agent at random or to
promote randomly the best and the worst members in terms of competence.

So in mathematical terms, at least, it makes the most sense to promote incompetence–sometimes.

The other winners of the Ig Nobel prize are equally strange and thought-provoking. They include a study that shows how asthma symptoms lessen on roller-coaster rides, a remote-controlled helicopter that captures whale snot, and a study that documents oral sex in fruit bats. Check out the full list of winners here.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.AS