Don’t Mistake High Performers for High Potentials

Hi-po_cartoonOne of the most common mistakes made in succession planning is to confuse high performance with high potential. It’s easy to spot a high performer. They are the team members you rely on for last minute sales or to make a difficult deadline. They are your go-to team members. They are the team members you actively work to retain and would even counter-offer if they considered leaving the organization.

Because they’re so easy to identify, and we can’t fathom losing them to a competitor, we often push them towards a management route.The problem is that high performance in one area, such as sales, does not always translate into high performance in management or leadership. Those two roles require completely different competencies. In fact, only 15% of an organization’s high performers are likely to also be high potential.

Of those individuals on your team who are high performers, only a small percentage of those will have an interest in pursuing senior leadership positions in your organization. An even smaller percentage will actually have the motivation, character, skill, and ability to truly fulfill a senior leadership position.

The key is to look past performance. To identify potential in the talent pool, you not only want someone who exceeds performance, but also models leadership behaviors to others. Look for someone who creates the standard of excellence on the team and who builds others up to achieve their full potential. Those are your true high potentials.

Also, be sure to examine the beliefs and commitment of your would-be high potentials. Are they committed to your organization’s mission? Do they believe that it is their personal mission to help others succeed? Do they see themselves as building a legacy in your organization?

Next, are the high potentials a cultural match for your leadership team? Do they display the ability to work autonomously? Are they flexible? Can they operate effectively in volatile, uncertain, or fast-paced environments? And, of course, do they have the ability to make decisions and solve problems efficiently?

Once you’ve identified your high potentials, it’s important to remember that you’ve identified just that—potential. Now the real work begins. If you want that potential to grow into something more, you must cultivate it with development plans, training, coaching, and the support of a strong mentor. Investing in the right high potentials and providing them with the stretch assignments, development experiences, and support they need will ensure your leadership pipeline is complete and strong for the future.

Once you start to focus on potential, you can easily see past the high performers who may be lone wolves focused on their own success and uninterested in boosting the performance of their peers.