Saturday, May 14, 2011

High Potentials vs. High Performers

Recently, I went to the Performance Conference in Chicago, where I had many interesting discussions regarding HIPO's. In HR slang HIPO's are defined as an organization's high performers. But as I delivered a presentation with my colleague Sue Bond from Halogen Software, it became crystal clear that high performers and high potentials are two very different types of employees. I am a fan of segmenting employee populations just like we do consumers as I think you can really gain insights on employee behavior and employee needs by analyzing segments versus all employees.

So what about high performers and high potentials?

According to me, (for what it's worth) a high performer has a track record of delivering results to the organization.

A high potential has the ABILITY to deliver results (at a future date) to the organization minus the track record. The high potential just needs to gain more experience and possibly skills to become a high performer.

So, how do we move a high potential to a high performer? Good question. I think this is both an art and a science as the tipping point, is motivation. Motivation is a tricky thing as it has many drivers. In my experience you can move a potential to a performer in the following ways:

1) Make sure the potential employee has a clear set of expectations for his current role.
2) Make sure rewards and recognition are given in a timely fashion.
3) Make sure the manager understands this person has potential. The manager is the key in this transition from potential performer to high performer. The manager is the coach in this relationship.
4) Sometimes the high potential employee doesn't recognize his own potential. See #3 above. Manager needs to communicate the traits that he sees that will make the employee a high performer.
5) Make sure the high potential employee knows what you are planning for him. If he is on a succession plan, make that explicit to the employee.

Can you have a high potential that is not performing? YES, I see that combination all of the time.
What can you do about that high potential that is not performing? To me, this is the trickiest scenario and a common one at that. Remember you need motivation for a person to perform. And sometimes, no matter what we do as managers we can't drive the employee to perform. It could be a matter of personal issues or just a bad job fit. This situation is also one of the most frustrating as managers often feel responsible for the non-performance.

So, let me hear from you, what have you done in a similar situation? Please comment below and give me your scenario and advice!


Ian Welsh said...

I think, Cathy, that a major problem is that we are often unable to convince a manager that he/she has a high potential employee.

The manager may be holding back the employee for multiple reasons including fear and ignorance. Often action has to be taken with the manager first (it may not be correctable) and there may then be a significant number of potentials who are freed to flourish.

Thanks, Cathy - a great subject,


Unknown said...


Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I agree managers are pivotal in the identification process when it comes to potentials. Often times, management want to keep the ones that have potential to themselves which doesn't do the individual employee any good as well as the organization.

Great ponts-

MKD said...

The issue of high potential vs high performing employee has to do with the expectation and objective of the organization apart from experience and limitations of the managers. where organizations do not declare clearly the number of high performers they need to meet their goals, there it so happens that managers become dependent on one or two handpicked self motivated high performers and somehow maintain the expectations of the organization. This scenario encourages manager to remain disinterested about the existence of highly potential employees in his own coutyard. The responsibilty of turning a high potential to high performer is that of top management. For an organization employees' performance and organizations' goal should be discussed together then only conversion of potential to performance will take place optimally.

Unknown said...


Thanks for stopping by and reading. I agree with you. I do believe especially in the last few years we became hugely dependent on a few "high-performers.' I also agree that expectations for performance need to be more explicit and communicated to all employees.

In order for high performance to happen, we have to have clear expectations, a valid rating system and managers that implement tools and processes with organizational goals in mind.