Performance or Potential

Potential – General Ozzy

I had the privilege of participating in the WSJ conference on Women in the Economy last April.  There was a very interesting observation in the McKinsey report presented there.  “Women are promoted based on performance, men based on potential”.  This speaks to the insidious barriers women face imbedded in institutional and individual mindsets.

I was reminded of this mindset just last week reading the news of my friend Meg Whitman’s appointment as CEO of Hewlett Packard.  Several articles commented that perhaps she didn’t have the appropriate experience for the job.  After all, she left Ebay when it had a mere 15,000 employees, 1/20th the size of HP.  The fact that she grew it to 15,000 from 30 didn’t seem to be as important.  I can’t think of a better example of this potential v. performance conundrum.  How much more potential needs to be demonstrated to get over these barriers?  Not to mention the fact that there doesn’t seem to be an oversupply of executives who have run 320,000 person businesses that sell software and hardware to both consumers and businesses – there is nobody to hire based on performance.

This is a hard job and it needs to be filled by someone with potential based on leadership, team-building, analytical skills and decision-making capabilities.  I can’t think of a better choice then Meg and wish her every success on the road ahead.

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