The 80/20 rule applies to the correlation between organizational output and the talent within that organization. In other words, the top 20 percent of talent accounts for 80 percent of output. Ideally, organizations would be able to invest in the growth and development of all employees. The fact is, few organizations have those kinds of resources. The key is to selectively focus resources on those employees with the greatest potential.
An employee’s potential sets their developmental ceiling. The higher the potential, the faster, easier and more cost-effective it will be to groom that employee for a particular role. The more complex the role, the greater the payoff from top talent with the highest potential. In fact, high-potential employees are 91 percent more valuable to an organization than other workers. These employees also tend to drive better performance from fellow employees.
The key is to be able to identify those high-potential employees. The first step is to determine what type of potential you want in such an employee. Many organizations make the mistake of focusing on individual potential for success. The better approach, however, is to determine which individuals are most likely to have the greatest influence on the success of the organization.
There are several qualities of high potential that most top employees share. The first is ability. Does an employee have the knowledge and skill to perform specific tasks and succeed in a particular role? Do they have the cognitive ability and natural curiosity to obtain new knowledge and skills? Do they have the vision required to be effective in a leadership role?
High-potential employees also have the social skills to manage themselves and others. They need to be able to work well autonomously, but collaboration and productive relationships are critical to success. This requires the emotional intelligence to handle pressure, overcome adversity, compromise, listen to input from others, and solve problems.
Finally, high-potential employees must have the drive to set goals, achieve success, and influence others to do the same for the benefit of the organization. Will, motivation, work ethic and initiative make up a person’s drive, which is critical to maximizing ability and social skills.
Keep in mind that there’s a difference between high performance and high potential. High-performance employees are the rainmakers who consistently hit goals, complete projects and meet expectations. These workers are easy to spot. But they might not have the social skills and the drive to take on a leadership role or more complex tasks. High-potential employees, on the other hand, might not have the same track record, but they have the attributes and behaviors required to make a bigger impact.
These characteristics are tougher to observe, tougher to quantify and tougher to evaluate. As a result, most organizations focus on performance, often leaving significant potential untapped. To be clear, poor performance rarely translates to high potential, but being a top performer doesn’t automatically mean an employee has the most potential.
Finding and developing high-potential employees begins with recruiting and hiring the right people. Look for the qualities mentioned previously, not just past achievements and current skills. Nurture and develop your own talent. Set goals, provide coaching, and monitor progress. Offer training and reward progress. Be consistent with employee reviews. Seek feedback. Get beyond the numbers when evaluating performance to recognize potential.
Maximizing performance is important to success, but identifying and maximizing potential can take your organization to a new level. Make sure you have a system in place that accounts for potential when recruiting and developing your employees.
Written and composed by Lyndsay Soprano, Director of Marketing