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The Truth About High-Potentials

Identifying you High-Potentials 

One of the most common, and the most costly, mistakes that I see managers of young employees making, is failing to properly identify their high-potentials. Maybe you are even asking yourself “what is a high-potential anyway?” Well, pardon the blockquote, but this definition from the Harvard Business Review is a great place to start:

“High potentials consistently and significantly outperform their peer groups in a variety of settings and circumstances. While achieving these superior levels of performance, they exhibit behaviors that reflect their companies’ culture and values in an exemplary manner. Moreover, they show a strong capacity to grow and succeed throughout their careers within an organization—more quickly and effectively than their peer groups do.”

Let me guess what you might be thinking now: “That is easy. I don’t have anyone like that.” If that is you, then really listen up, because you are missing out on huge value for your business and I am going to help you start to change that.

The first secret is that who is or is not a high-potential, is highly contextual.

Keep in mind that the definition is in reference to a specific peer group, or in other words, high-potential is a relative, not a fixed designation.

If you are managing in a retail environment, for example, and precisely none of your employees are anywhere near the path to a Nobel prize, that is okay. Notice that this fact does not exclude them from fitting the high-potential definition above. Don’t lose your frame of reference and fall into the trap of thinking that high-potential is a term reserved for some special kind of genius - because it isn’t.

Your high-potentials are likely hiding right under your nose, disguised as the employees you don’t have to “worry about.”

High-potential in your organization may just be showing up on time, being prepared, coming in to cover a shift at the last minute, or always completing the closing checklist. A word of caution here though, is that in more complex roles in competitive organizational settings, it can be detrimental to equate high-performing with high-potential.

As Sage reports, leading experts agree that a large part of the high-potential calculus in these settings, where there are many high-performers and hierarchy and favoritism can influence assessments, should come down to personality.

But again, in dealing with a young, inexperienced team, think about those employees you have who are doing the things that others can’t or won't, while still managing to get along with almost everyone. Congratulations, you have just identified your high-potentials.   

The second secret is, once you know who on your team fits the bill, make sure you recognize their effort and praise their dedication.

We have some great resources for providing praise and motivating your team in our video library and we even have another blog post dedicated to the subject.

This isn’t just good for these specific individuals either; everyone benefits. In fact, research has proven that having just one “A Player” on your team can increase the performance of the other members of the team by as much as 15%.

Sports teams have an intuitive understanding of this concept. They all vie to land their sport’s “superstars” not just to have the best players around, but because their presence on the team makes the other players that much better as well.

The third and final secret is, once you have identified your high-potentials, and made sure to recognize them and their impact, do not neglect the crucial step of challenging them to improve even more.

If you do not challenge them, your high-potentials will always be just that - potentials.

Remember to reinforce the idea that responsibility is a reward. To help mold them into game-changing, organization driving forces of creativity and productivity you must continue to challenge them to tackle increasingly difficult tasks.

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