Staffing Management

Can Low-Potential Workers Become High-Potentials?

By Staff Report

Feb. 25, 2014

Dear What About the Also-Rans:

Most talent management initiatives focus on so-called high potentials — employees than an organization believes are capable of advancing at least two levels beyond their current position. If you consider the traditional bell curve, high potentials may represent up to 15 percent of your organization. At the bottom of the curve, poor performers represent 15 percent — leaving at least 70 percent of your people in the middle. Conventional wisdom is that organizations invest most of their training and development budget on high-potential programs, since the return on investment generally is greater. But your inquiry alludes to a bigger question: What happens with the remaining 70 percent of employees?

As HR professionals, we should be careful about labeling employees. While “high potential” is a common term applied to some people, I recommend you avoid the low-potential label. All people have potential.

Just as one cannot turn a fox into a leopard, an organization cannot turn an individual into a high-potential employee. However, your company can provide every employee with an opportunity to develop their talents, skills and competencies, which indeed reflect their potential.

The question you’ve raised also points to a larger fundamental issue: Who within the organization takes responsibility for employee development? Is it the organization itself or the employee? It’s my belief that the employee is responsible for his or her own development — but your organization must serve as a catalyst to help unlock their full potential.

Not everyone wants to advance two levels and frankly, even if they did, your organization likely would be unable to meet the sustained demand. Your goal: facilitate processes that enable each person to strive to reach their potential. This begins with conversation between your managers, employees and immediate supervisor about career aspirations, strengths and developmental needs. 

While seminars, classroom training and degree programs are worthy endeavors, the most effective learning occurs from on-the-job-experience. Short-term special projects, stretch assignments, task forces, cross-training, broadening responsibilities and lateral job rotation enable employees to demonstrate potential beyond their current roles. Some employees may welcome the additional opportunities. Others value stability and may simply be content to perform their job to the best of their abilities and remain in their current position, and that has value too.

Perhaps only a small percentage of your employee population will ultimately be designated as high potentials and capable of advancing two levels. However, you strengthen your talent base, enhance performance and create a desirable workplace by helping people unlock their full potential. That’s the essence of HR professional.

SOURCE:Jeffrey Husserl, CoralBridge Partners,Chicago, Feb. 13, 2014.

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