CO - HR Innovation

High Potentials vs High Performers

High Potentials vs High Performers
A Leaders Guide to Identify the Differences
 Mistaking a high-performing employee for a high-potential employee can be costly. If organisations are not able to clearly distinguish between performance and potential, it will be challenged to really identify high- potential talent.
An example is the high performing sales person promoted to sales manager as the organisation considers he/she has potential. What often happens is the sales person really struggles in the transition and adapting to the new managers role, often failing and ultimately leaving the organisation. A high performer doesn't guarantee they will turn into a high potential. A common occurrence that happens often.
A leader who understands the difference between performance and potential will be better able to engage and retain talent who have aptitude in one or both. This leads us to the question of how to identify and develop high potentials and high performers. This article outlines the strategies any leader can apply to identify, assess and develop high potentials and high performers.
 
Identifying High Performers and High Potentials
High performers stand out in most organizations. They consistently exceed their targets, tackle difficult projects because they have a track record of getting the job done and they are great at their job and take pride in what they achieve, but may not have the potential (or the desire) to succeed in a higher-level role or to tackle more advanced work. They tend to seek more challenge in their area of expertise.
High potentials have demonstrated initial aptitude for their technical skills and are seen as having future potential. In other words, they can possibly do more for the organization longer term.
High potentials are hard to identify, for a couple of reasons. First, high performance is easy to observe that it drowns out the less obvious attributes and behaviours that characterize high potentials such as seek greater authority, assume responsibility for others and enhanced status.  It’s important that they see themselves as moving up the ladder. You also need to tell them they are high potential, involve them in decision making, set clear goals and match organisation needs to their aspirations plus train them across departments.
In addition, not too many organizations clearly articulate the attributes and competencies they value in high potential employees–which means that leaders don’t know precisely what to look for to assess potential. As a result, most leaders focus exclusively on performance.
That is not wrong as organisations need to value and reward performance. However, if the goal is to build a more robust and sustainable talent pipeline, then performance can’t be the only point of entry. Its important to develop the ideal profile of the attributes for key roles and let leaders know so they can clearly identify and further develop high potentials.
Each category requires a different development strategy.  With a clearer picture of who falls where, leaders can make more informed decisions in how to effectively develop them.
     “If performance is the only criteria employees are evaluated on, then 
      high performers will be the only ones getting promoted and high
      potential’s will be leaving”  
Assessing Performance vs. Potential
An established standard of the attributes and competencies of model employees is also an essential part of objective assessment. Although, there’s a distinct difference between potential and performance, experts agree that employees should be assessed on competency in both.
 
Figure 1 provides a framework for identifying the typical traits of performance vs potential.
High Performance Regularly exceeds expectations

Lacks skills for success at higher level
Sets standard of excellence in role

Model leadership candidate
Low Performance Little-to-no aptitude

Weak, unsatisfactory performance
Above-average aptitude

Inconsistent performance
  Low Potential High Potential
 
After you have determined which quadrant an employee falls under, you can develop a plan for employee development. Each of these categories requires a specific approach when it comes to discussing development opportunities. With a clearer picture of who falls where, leaders can make more informed decisions in how to effectively develop them. For example: High Po/Low Per employees may need to improve their ability to perform consistently or may be moved into roles better aligned with their natural abilities.
High Per/Low Per employees may be ideal candidates for soft skills development, or for roles that require more technical skills.
Development Strategies
In an ideal world, every employee in the organization would be a high performer with high potential–but that’s obviously not realistic. The appropriate question is how to move employees toward the upper-right quadrant, or at least to the high-performance tier.
It’s not always possible, nor always the desired goal (you might want to keep your high performers right where they are, for instance). There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy, but 
Figure 2 provides a general development framework of strategies to consider.
 
High Performance Keep them where they are,
or promote

Constant encouragement

Challenging assignments

Soft skill development
Keep them where they are,
or promote

Provide autonomy
Low Performance Performance plan

Termination
Pair with a High Performer

New role better aligned with skills

Training

Test with more responsibilities
  Low Potential High Potential
 
 
Recognition is key for High Per/Low Po employees.  They need constant encouragement and challenging assignments.  Rather than promoting them to roles they don’t want (or aren’t ready for), give them the independence and ownership of projects and/or teams.
Alternately, while High Po/Low Per employees may be hungry for more high-impact work, they need seasoning.  On the job training is a great way to accomplish this, especially when pairing them with high performers who can serve as mentors. 
 As they develop a stronger understanding of the organization and their role in it, test the capabilities of high potentials with more projects to manage, new hires to train, give them projects to manage, and offer cross-training opportunities.
An Effective Talent Pipeline is Managed by the Leaders in the Organisation
The line leader plays a big role in building the talent pipeline. It’s increasingly important that they are empowered to do so successfully. While most will have some natural ability in identifying, assessing, and engaging performers and potentials, few will be adept at all three. 
 If you want to improve your line leaders ability to retain your high-potential and high-performing employees, assessing their competencies and attributes, and setting them up for success, then investing in line leaders development to be able to do just that will be time well spent.
If you liked this article, please let me have your comments/views and also share with friends and colleagues.
 
  • John Eddy
    John Eddy
    Executive & Career Coach, Australia

    John Eddy is a passionate Executive & Career Coach who works with leaders across the Asian market. John is dedicated in helping leaders grow and develop personally & professionally. His many years working in Senior Human Resources & Talent Development roles across Asia.

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