High Performers or High Potentials?

January 24th, 2014 by Maryanne Honeycutt

slideshow_skierMost leaders have star performers, and often times, those leaders work hard to find new ways to engage them to be productive and fulfilled in their roles. Finding new projects, developing a specific skill or getting exposure to different markets or people can all be ways to reward performers.

In a recent situation, I worked with “Diane” who developed a significant bias with a few of her star performers. She was a truly fantastic leader with her team and looked tirelessly for opportunities for her team to grow and stay challenged.  She thought her team was filled with both high performers who all had high potential.  Probably a helpful belief when leading her team, but understanding these distinctions could help Diane find more targeted and realistic coaching and development strategies.

So what’s the difference?  Measuring both past performance and predicting future potential may help organizations be more strategic about their current talent. Having a talent strategy helps individuals be truly ready for key positions in the future. Both high performers and high potentials reach or exceed their goals, show a strong work ethic and make valuable contributions to the organization. However, a high performer may not have the interest or ability to move into another position, or be promoted to a leadership position. High potentials show high levels of engagement and initiative, and have both the ability and desire for advancement.  A successor is considered someone who could move into one or more specific positions and may be a high performer or high potential.

How can leaders be more effective? A leader who does not understand or buy into a talent management process can set unrealistic expectations with their team. Part of a leaders’ job includes helping them see how they can fit into bigger system. Diane found herself lacking credibility with her peers with a reputation that seemed to overstate her team members’ abilities. Diane also found her team disappointed with advancement opportunities she thought would be possible within the organization, but in reality, her team members were overall unprepared or not a fit for certain roles.

Diane recognized the need to use some fairly simple, but different strategies, to assess her team. Advocating for her senior-level auditor to attend an internal leadership development program didn’t make as much sense when she really listened to Audra and heard that she didn’t really want to move into a formal leadership role.  She learned that Audra was reluctant to say anything because she didn’t want to jeopardize her position and also, didn’t want to disappoint Diane. Audra thought the program was a requirement for her to succeed in her position. Diane thought she was being a great leader by getting Audra accepted into the program.

How are you assessing your team’s talent? What impact does your assessment have on their development? What are your teams’ true development needs?

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