The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that is it too low and we reach it.Michelangelo
Leading businesses need more than hard work and solid results right now. They also need a pipeline of talent that will drive future success.
That is why many organizations evaluate employees on not only their current performance, but also their future potential.
According to a study developing high-potential employees can deliver a big boost to a company’s bottom line.
Not only that, star performers can bump up a team’s performance by as much as 15%. And as you would imagine, the reverse is also true.
Turnover is never fun, especially when it’s your high-potential faction of talent heading for the door.
But how do you identify high-potential? Isn’t it the same thing as high performance?
Let’s take a deeper look at the difference between potential and performance, and what characteristics to look for to help tease out your future top talent.
The difference between potential and performance
Future leaders, rockstars…
Potential is that elusive — almost magical — HR intangible that separates a good employee from your next generation business visionary.
Performance, on the other hand, is simply how well (or poorly) a person is doing their job.
While potential and performance are definitely related, they aren’t perfectly correlated.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should overlook performance. Past performance is always the best indicator of future performance. But there is more to future performance.
The point I’m trying to make is that, as much as we wish there were a clear-cut path to bringing out the best in our people, it’s just not as simple as, “Promote X employee after 5 years of great and outstanding work”.
The truth is, in order to reach peak performance, everyone needs opportunities to stretch and test their skills — and they deserve them, too.
While many high performers may be totally satisfied in their current roles, a high-potential employee is much more likely to seek out a totally new task, or be eager to take a much bigger step forward (or upward) into management or another role where there’s plenty of room to learn and advance.
Six core characteristics of high-talented employees.
1. Engaged and driven
Most high-potential employees are highly engaged in their field, industry and/or company.
Whether that extra layer of passion comes from an intrinsic drive, a set goal, or just a genuine interest in their work (hopefully, all three!), high-potential employees are like hot air balloons — to reach new heights, they need a little fire inside.
High -potential employees can be so ambitious, they “realize they may have to make sacrifices in their personal lives in order to advance.”
You’ll recognize your high-potential employees as the ones who are always willing to stay late or come in early. But beware. Burnout is like kryptonite for employee engagement, even among your high-potentials. Employees with a bit too much drive might need some help keeping a balance, before they burn out and head for the door.
A high-potential employee might not be everyone’s best friend, but they probably won’t be lone wolves either. But let’s pause for an important distinction here, in HR circles, when we talk about “high-potential employees”, we’re often talking about candidates or employees who can move up the ladder into a leadership role — and as with any leadership role, your ability to work with people is crucial.
There’s just no cure for incompetence.
Beyond being good with people, high-potential employees are undeniably capable.
High -potential employees are not only able to do the job, they can also handle more complex tasks and questions, and are able to step back and think critically about those tasks.
4. Interested in deep growth
This characteristic can be phrased many different ways, depending on who you ask.
Whatever you call it, at the core of the idea is a person’s interest for deep growth. Employees who are eager to uncover new knowledge and opportunities beyond an established capacity or business “comfort zone” are typically excellent at finding profitable areas to expand into.
Curious, able, sociable, and driven are all wonderful things to be — but for many, these characteristics can come with a hidden tendency to bite off more than you can chew.
Enter the “dynamic sensors.”
Employees with dynamic sensors have the uncanny ability to see the difference between the tasks that yield reward, and those that are pure risk. “Their enterprising spirit might otherwise lead them to make foolish decisions, but these sensors help them decide, for example, when to pursue something and when to pull back,”
At the end of the day, achieving high performance on the right things, is what moves a company forward.