Don’t Ever Eclipse Results

I’m a Jack Welch fan. I’m obviously not afraid to admit this. I admire the man not only for what he accomplished during his reign at GE, but also for what he’s passed on to countless leaders and talent-based organizations about optimizing performance and generally creating meaningful career experiences.

On Wednesday, Jack pissed off a bunch of powerful women because he made a poignant observation about how “results and performance”, not “programs promoting diversity, mentorships, and affinity groups” advance female leaders. He made this comment while speaking to a gathering of female executives at the Wall Street Journal Women in the Economy Conference and evidently a din of “angry murmers” materialized instantly. Come on, ladies. Can we just take a chill, please? Do you really think Jack Welch doesn’t understand the value of a diverse workplace? Do you really think he doesn’t see the important role diversity programs and affinity groups play in the advancement of women? Really? And even if he doesn’t, don’t you think his point is an interesting one…if not a valid one?

It is about results and performance. It should only be about results and performance. Jack’s point is that advancing employees – whether they be male, female, black, or white – on anything other than performance is fundamentally a slippery slope. In essence he’s saying that if a man is promoted because he’s a man and not because his results and performance warrant it, then it’s just wrong. It’s wrong and it’s ultimately detrimental to the organization.

Affinity groups and diversity programs are really important to heightening awareness to non-business related bias. No one is arguing that – and I certainly don’t think Jack was. But those programs do not – nor should they ever – eclipse the importance of performance and results.

Image Credit: luc.viatour

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  • Tom Bolt

    Jack (and you) are right. If it is not about results and performance, then it is to dilute the accomplishments of women everywhere. We all should applaud efforts to promote diversity, provide mentorships and facilitate affinity programs, but if the end result is not to contribute to the bottom line then the message being communicated is, “I deserve it because I am a woman” which is no more relevant than favoring someone because they are male. The programs are less important than the women who lead the charge and become role models for all genders. It is not about the mechanism, it is about the message.

  • hrfishbowl

    very well said, tom. thanks for that.

  • Bmilhizer

    This pre-supposes that the performance measurement system isn’t in and of itself inherently biased. That’s where HR should play a strategic role. Oh, wait, they are too busy with the picnic.

  • hrfishbowl

    That’s interesting cuz making sure the “performance management measurement system isn’t…biased” has nothing to do with strategy. It’s fundamental…it’s everyone’s responsibility. And focusing on fundamentals makes HR no more strategic than planning the company picnic.

  • Bmilhizer

    It is fundamental, but unwinding a biased one is a concerted strategy and change effort. Agree it’s everyone’s responsibility to address, but a true business partner would spot the iceberg first. And that is where I think HR may generally be lost in the cupcakes.

  • hrfishbowl

    barb, maybe it’s semantics. unwinding a systemic bias is and can in fact be “strategic.” and if in fact that side of the house isn’t in order, than it probably is the highest best use of HR’s time and efforts. but this is still fundamental to HR’s purview and it should be something we do as part of our daily commitment to the organization. it is the price of admission. and if you can’t do this well, then chances are you should really only be allowed to focus on planning the company’s picnic.

  • Nancy Newell

    Hi Charlie. I think Jack has a serious blind spot when it comes to his thoughts and subsequent statements about women and performance in the workplace. I agree, performance matters, and matter a lot. So, when Jack says that a woman’s ability to lead a company is based upon her performance, and only 3% of Fortune 500 leaders are CEO’s, he must be saying that we are dramatically underperforming compared to our male counterparts. But then, I look to your infographic from your previous post about women and all of their tremendous achievements in the workplace — including higher performance when women are on BOD’s. So, it’s not that women aren’t capable of and actually demonstrating high performance. What, then, explains the gap between women and men in leadership? It’s not a difference of performance.

    I think that’s what most women find so offensive about his comments.

    FTR, I’m still waiting for him to explain why choosing a to be a mother precludes a woman from the corner office, but choosing to be a father does not.

    See you in the ATL?

  • hrfishbowl

    no question jack has some “blind spots.” i did not infer from his statements, though, that he was suggesting women were lower performers. on the contrary, he was suggesting that the gap driver between women and men in leadership positions is not performance, but rather the traditional organization’s failure to recognize performance as the only true driver to advancement. he’s suggesting that if those fortune 500 companies could get that right, we’d see a lot more women in those positions…not because they are women, but because they are better performers.

    yes, i’ll see you in Atlanta!