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High Performers are not always High Potentials, how do you know?

Are all high performers also high potentials for your organization? Not in my opinion. What is the difference? High performers are experts who consistently exceed in their work. They are motivated and typically known as the “go to” people in your organization. Because they are so good, it is easy to believe they are also your high potential employees. Meaning they will make a great manager, leader, or even executive.

What may be missing for these employees are the characteristics of high potentials. I sum up the biggest difference between performance and potential as aspiration, ability, and motivation to be part of the organization’s vision. notes 5 characteristics to watch for in high potential employees (paraphrased):

· Know the business and keep learning

· Respected by others

· Ambitious in a focused manner

· Work well with others

· Has guts (courage) to take risks

Putting high performers in a situation as if they are a high potential can be a problem for you and your organization. You not only risk handling the project, customer, or whatever the situation warrants effectively. Worse yet, you risk losing a valuable high performing employee due to overwhelm and frustration.

I worked with a gentleman, in his 20’s, who made it to the director level. He seemed to have the magic touch when I met him in the 1990’s. I am honored to report that he is now the CEO of a growing international organization. I didn’t understand the traits he possessed when I met him. Now I can see why he continues to be successful. He is a continuous learner, always looking to improve himself and his team. He is laser focused, not on his contribution alone, but rather the difference he makes on others to cultivate their engagement. In doing so, he creates success for the organization. He never loses sight of the organization's mission, vision, purpose, and the strategy.

In contrast at that time, I had on blinders (or what I call, limiting beliefs about my potential). I was consistently a top performer and took pride in my ability to deliver at ALL COSTS. Ha, there lies the key. My laser focus ability, no matter what the cost, impacted my potential. I didn’t stop to think how I could make the organization better nor help everyone around me rise to the challenge. I burnt out and left the organization. I threw in the towel and said no way did I want to continue. I changed careers (again). It didn’t take long before I was a top performer, again. I was learning, I was taking risks, I was succeeding professionally, so why wasn’t I rising? Why wasn’t I tapping into my full potential? The pattern just repeated.

Do you see the difference? “I vs. We” My colleague was driven to be part of the organization; the “we”. I was driven to be successful; the “I”. I lacked the characteristics of a high potential. I didn’t have a manager or mentor that asked or encouraged me to have aspirations for my career. They always asked about the next logical step in the organization for me. In hindsight, I never wanted the next logical step, I wanted something totally different in my career.

Today, I consider myself a high potential by nature. My circumstances have changed. I now understand the mindset necessary to see possibilities beyond my own capabilities. I have aspirations for something beyond myself. My own journey is proof high performers can be high potentials.

The takeaway is, do you help a high performer understand what they want in their career? Many people are happy in the position of high performers and that is just fine. It is good for them and good for your organization. However, there may be characteristics of high potential within them. Both the individual and the organization is at risk of losing if their potential isn’t explored.

As a business leader, this is your first true test of career development with your staff. Remember you are assessing their capabilities and skills while also taking into account what aligns with their goals. Your organization needs both types of employees, finding the right path to align your employees with the organizational needs will increase engagement and ultimately lead to success for your organization.

The next step becomes, are you investing in the right processes for developing your employees to retain these valuable assets? Using personality assessments and 360 assessments are a good start. To complete the picture consider how to engage with your employees to be a catalyst in bringing their full potential to your organization. A coach can help identify the interplay between the employee’s hidden potential, the feedback loops of assessments and the organizational needs.

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Laura Di Tomasso, PCC

Laura specializes in development of emerging and new leaders, seeking leadership excellence for themselves and for the organization. Creating a partnership with her clients, Laura unlocks leadership potential, whether they manage people directly or influence cross functionally. Clients gain awareness, clarity and grow into the true leader they are capable of being by taking constructive action. Laura believes in her clients and fully trusts the outcomes they will achieve via a coach approach.
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