Why High Performing Employees Aren’t Necessarily High Potential

January 29, 2015

Businessman Arranging Small Wooden Pieces with Develop LettersHigh performing employees are easily identified by a wide variety of traits that, when combined, give the individual an incredibly competitive edge. When managers identify these high performers, they have a tendency to latch on tight to the hope that these individuals will become rising stars in the organisation.

For the vast majority of high performing employees, organisational leaders will find that their dreams have come true. However, their success hinges on the ability of their supervisors to differentiate the high performers who also have high potential, and those who are simply high performers at their current level.

The most notable trait of high performers is their tendency to actively seek out and implement feedback from their peers and supervisors. This ability to take initiative and network with their leaders to improve performance often goes hand in hand with the ability to work autonomously. These employees are able to make good decisions on the fly, and will most likely excel in leadership roles. However, if the individual is only able to work autonomously on tasks where they have sought out specific instructions, they may be better off left in their current position.

High performers generally have strong time management skills that allow these workers to successfully juggle an enormous amount of work. More often than not, their efficiency is based on years of experience in their career and a deep and intrinsic understanding of their own knowledge, skills, and abilities. For some employees, this efficiency is specific to a work role they have taken the time to master. If they move up the corporate ladder, these skills may no longer be as effective, and their overall potential will plummet.

Another aspect that leaders tend to latch on to is engagement, especially given that research has shown that employees who are engaged in their work do tend to be high performers, to report greater levels of job satisfaction, and to remain with their organisation for longer periods of time. However, once again, engaged employees may not necessarily want to seek constant promotions. If the employee is engaged because of some unique combination of factors that are specific to their job, they may actively resist changes that would affect their work life.

Finally, the most important factor that differs between those with and without high potential is the individuals’ level of aspiration. That is to say, individuals who are high performers in their position may not necessarily want to be continuously promoted. Perhaps they specifically sought their current position due to a love of the job tasks, or due to the flexible nature of the work.  Regardless of their motives, some employees would prefer not be on the fast track to longer hours and higher demands, and forcing them is likely to lead to resentment and turnover.

Any time managers spy a high potential employee, they should take the time to evaluate their potential based on their incentive, performance, engagement, and aspiration. Individuals with high performance as well as high potential should be constantly challenged as they grow into their leadership skills and tackle increasing demands, while those with lower potential should be supported and encouraged as they develop at their own pace. As time goes by, leaders who take the time to differentiate between these two types of high performers will be able to maximise the potential of these high performers and to successfully incorporate their skills into the organisation.

Many thanks

Stewart Bull

Senior Trainer & Consultant

Mark Williams 3

(Image courtesy of dollarphotoclub)