I'm seeking either a word or phrase that captures the phenomenon in an organization that relatively junior employees possess far more skills germane to the organization's purpose than supervisory and upper-level management employees do, because the managerial employees were in an entirely different industry when they were junior employees. The upper-level employees' only experience in the industry has come from being upper-level management, so they do not understand what it is like to do the "front-line" jobs in the industry.

So far, my best attempt at a phrase to describe this situation is a "skill inversion" between the low-level employees and their management. Phrases that address either the hard skills aspect (management doesn't know how to do the lower-level employees' jobs), the soft skills aspect (management doesn't understand what it's like to be a lower-level employee), or both, are welcome.

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    Since you've tagged this as a single word request, you should include a sample sentence demonstrating how the word would be used. Dec 12, 2021 at 20:22
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    The people at the top are pencil pushers. The people in the trenches have the technical know-how. No matter how you phrase it, the people at the top may find your observation offensive, so be careful. You could talk about taking a team approach and mention something the managers can contribute, that doesn't sound snide, in addition to the programming chops (or whatever) that the infantry can contribute. Dec 13, 2021 at 4:28

1 Answer 1


There are various phrases regarding this kind of managerial competence that may be useful:

"The Dilbert Principle": People are promoted to management because they lack competence in their technical role. In management they are "out of the way", thereby improving the workflow. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dilbert_principle

Under the Dilbert principle, employees who were never competent are promoted to management to limit the damage they can do.

"The Peter Principle": People are promoted based on good performance until they reach a role that is too demanding for them, where they underperform and thus are not promoted further. Thus everybody in the hierarchy inevitably finds themselves in a position where they are incompetent / underperforming. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_principle

People in a hierarchy tend to rise to "a level of respective incompetence": employees are promoted based on their success in previous jobs until they reach a level at which they are no longer competent, as skills in one job do not necessarily translate to another.

"Putt's Law" is similarly related: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Putt%27s_Law_and_the_Successful_Technocrat

Putt's Law: "Technology is dominated by two types of people, those who understand what they do not manage and those who manage what they do not understand." Putt's Corollary: "Every technical hierarchy, in time, develops a competence inversion." with incompetence being "flushed out of the lower levels" of a technocratic hierarchy, ensuring that technically competent people remain directly in charge of the actual technology while those without technical competence move into management.

Unfortunately there does not seem to be a term for your very specific example of upper-level managers not being familiar with the details of what they manage due to having switched industries, but I think "Putt's Law" best encapsulates the aspect of management not having a technical familiarity or proficiency in what they are managing.

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