Tag Archives: potential

Paradox of Potential vs Achievement in Job Search

Zachary Tormala

Zachary Tormala

When hiring or promoting, the person’s potential can trump actual accomplishments, according to Stanford’s Zakary Tormala, with Jayson Jia of University of Hong Kong and Harvard’s Michael Norton.

Jayson Shi Jia

Jayson Shi Jia

The paradox of potential occurs because possibility seems to engender greater interest and cognitive effort due to its uncertain outcome, in examples ranging across:

  • Basketball player evaluations,
  • Hiring decisions,
  • Salary offers,
  • Graduate school admissions recommendations,
  • Judgments of artistic talent,
  • Intentions to visit an untried restaurant.
Michael Norton

Michael Norton

Tormala and team demonstrated this effect by presenting identical statistics for a hypothetical NBA basketball player, then describing the data “predictions” or as “actual performance.”
Participants were more likely to judge that the player would become an All-Star player when they viewed “predicted” statistics rather than “actual” performance records.

Volunteers also evaluated a job applicant more favorably when the person performed well on an “Assessment of Leadership Potential rather than on an “Assessment of Leadership Achievement.”

Tormala’s group extended the investigation to evaluate impact of an upcoming comedian’s ”accomplishment” compared with “potential” when they posted different Facebook advertisements:

  • “Critics say he has become the next big thing”
  • “Critics say he could become the next big thing.”

The “potential” ads produced more than three times more click-throughs and five times more fan ratings.

In other studies, Tormala and team compared descriptions of an achievement and potential:

  • “This person has won an award for his work”
  • “This person could win an award for his work.”

“Potential” stimulated greater interest and cognitive information processing, resulting in more favorable reactions to the target person.

Derek Rucker

Derek Rucker

With Stanford colleague Daniella Kupor and Derek D. Rucker of Northwestern University, Tormala and Norton found that the preference for potential disappeared for people who don’t like uncertainty, and in situations that require higher degrees of certainty.

They noted that when people thoughtfully consider challenging decisions, such as in a Blackjack game, bystanders form positive impressions of others and become more willing to be influenced by them.
However, observers form negative opinions of people who “overthink” simple choices (demonstrate lack “thought calibration”), and are less willing to be influenced by them.

The appeal of potential applies to abstract enjoyable experiences, according to Southern Methodist University’s T. Andrew Poehlman and George Newman of Yale.

T Andrew Poehlman

T Andrew Poehlman

They found that the lure of “potential” makes people more likely to “consume inferior performances” in the present, but may not enjoy them.

Poehlman and Newman argued that “potential” is less influential when experienced in the past, and is less attractive when potential is associated with utilitarian dimensions.

George Newman

George Newman

These findings point to the value of:

  • Positioning one’s own “potential” as well as others’ “potential” to increase persuasiveness of support and advocacy,
  • Considering whether candidates with “potential” seem more appealing than those with greater experience – and whether potential is the appropriate selection criterion.

-*How frequently do you see people hired, promoted, and rewarded for “potential” instead of actual achievement?

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Women’s Career Development Model – Individual Action in Career Planning and the Contest and Sponsorship Pathways to Advancement – Part 1 of 2

Ines Wichert

Ines Wichert

Ines Wichart of Kenexa High Performance Institute (KHPI), a subsidiary of IBM, proposed a model of women’s career development that focuses on:

  • The individual
  • The immediate work environment
  • The organizational context

She identified four behaviors that individuals can execute to increase the likelihood of career advancement:

  • Career planning 
  • Opportunity-seeking, Negotiation
  • Career-building networking; Mentoring-Sponsorship     
  • Skillful self-promotion
Ralph Turner

Ralph Turner

Kenexa Career Development Model-Individual Behaviors

Kenexa Career Development Model-Individual Behaviors

Within the domain of Career Planning, Ralph Turner, then of UCLA, proposed two ways that people advance their careers based on measures of promotions obtained and progression in the organizational hierarchy:

  • Contest Pathway is an open, merit-based system that enables career advancement by evaluating past accomplishments and impact

    Kenexa Career Progression Pathways- Contest and Sponsorship

    Kenexa Career Progression Pathways- Contest and Sponsorship

  • Sponsorship Pathway is a closed system in which candidates for advancement are chosen by senior leaders based “promotability” or “future potential“ to undertake and excel in future challenges
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

More than a century and a half ago, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow anticipated this distinction between the the contest and sponsorship pathways when he proposed how people assess  their performance:
We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.”

Thomas Ng

Thomas Ng

Lillian Eby

Lillian Eby

More recent work by Thomas Ng and Kelly Sorensen, then of University of Georgia with their colleagues Lillian Eby and Daniel Feldman, found that women excel in the Contest Pathway, which requires:

Daniel Feldman

Daniel Feldman

  • Initiative
  • Risk-taking
  • Perseverance  
Amy Hurley Hanson

Amy Hurley Hanson

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld

In contrast, Amy Hurley-Hanson of Chapman University and Yale’s Jeffrey Sonnenfeld  as well as Cranfield’s Susan Vinnicombe and Val Singh found that men tend to excel in the Sponsorship Pathway, based on:

Susan Vinnicombe

Susan Vinnicombe

  • Val Singh

    Val Singh

    Skillful networking

  • Visibility
  • Reputation for delivering outstanding results
  • Promoting accomplishments  
Philip Roth

Philip Roth

Philip Bobko

Philip Bobko

Another reason that women are not part of the Sponsorship Pathway as frequently as men is that women are less likely to be viewed as “promotable” even though men and women are rated equally effective as leaders, according to findings by Philip Roth of Clemson University, Kristen Purvis then of Cornell University, Philip Bobko of Gettysburg College.

  • How have you seen the Contest Pathway and the Sponsorship Pathway operate in your career advancement?
  • How do you “actively manage” your career toward advancement in the Contest Pathway or the Sponsorship Pathway?

Next: Women’s Career Development Model – Part 2 of 2Negotiation, Networking-Mentoring-Sponsorship, Skillful Self-Promotion

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