High Performers vs. High Potentials

Power People WEBAfter writing about high potentials in the nine part “Play it Again, Sam” series and having a coaching client who is taking a hard look at identifying high potentials in her organization, I wanted to explore this topic a bit further.

The Difference Between a High Performer and a High potential

A classic error many organizations make is promoting their top sales person to be the sales manager. More often than not, this ends in disaster. Just because someone can sell, doesn’t mean he or she can manage others or the sales process for that matter. The sales rep was a high performer, not a high potential. Now you promote the person who should have been promoted and he or she may feel like the second choice or the individual may have already quit for being passed over. It can be difficult to zero in on high potentials. More about that later. Michael Wilk with Profile International suggests 10 questions to ask in ferreting out a high potential.

  1. Does the person have a proven track record? This is not the average Joe who only does what is expected, but rather delivers results that have a positive impact on the organization.
  2. Does the person exhibit leadership by taking charge rather than sitting back, letting someone else take the lead and then jump in?
  3. Does the individual make sound decisions that prove to be correct?
  4. Can the individual influence and persuade others? Is this team member a sounding board for other team members?
  5. Is this person often selected to lead projects by his or her peers or management?
  6. Can his person see the big picture? In other words, can they envision a project’s end and then put the steps and processes in place to accomplish the goal?
  7. Can this team member prioritize tasks or do they suffer from paralysis by analysis?
  8. Does the person overcome obstacles?
  9. Can the individual multi-task?
  10. How does this team member handle change?

These are all excellent questions. People who cannot answer yes to these questions will not succeed as a high potential. Even a person who may not have experience in a field or specific career area can be a high potential if he or she has the ability to “adapt and to and grow into increasingly complex roles and environments” (HBR, 2015). Why has the high potential evolved into such importance? According to this same referenced article, it is indeed based on a type of evolution – four to be exact.

The Importance of Identifying High Potentials

The first was that in ancient times, if you needed someone for building, fighting, or farming, you assessed his physical attributes. Even in modern times, “Fortune 500 CEOS are on average, 2.5 inches taller than the average American.” This same statistic holds true for military leaders and presidents. The second evolution came early in the 20th century, the concentration fell to hiring those with intelligence, experience, verbal ability, math skills, logical thinking, graduates from top schools, and those who had track records. Again, these attributes are relatively easy to assess. The third evolution came in the 1980s. The concentration then was on competency and emotional intelligence even over IQ. The new era brings the focus to potential. The new business buzzword is the military acronym VUCA. VUCA stands for volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. While these may be words describing what the military faces today, it also describes our world in general driving right down to Main Street USA and most definitely business. Adding to this “chaos” is that potential is not as easy to discern as physical attributes, intelligence, or a track record. The good news is that according to Claudio Fernandez-Araoz in an interview by Bloomberg Business, potential is found in all ages and at all levels. In fact, he cites Pope Francis as an example. So we can look at examples, ask the questions from above or we can go the more scientific route and use instruments on the market that can prove helpful.

Tools for Identifying High Potentials

The Nine-Box Grid This tool is a matrix evaluating and plotting an organization’s talent pool based on two factors, performance and potential. At the lowest measurement the organization should consider reassignment or reclassification to a lower position or invite the individual to leave the organization. Someone who achieves the top measurement is someone who consistently performs well in a variety of assignments, someone who is described as a superstar employee, is big picture thinker, has strong problem solving abilities, and is self-motivated.

The HPIQ (High potential Questionnaire) This tool was created by a company called     People Measures based out of Australia. The HPIQ purports to introduce more objectivity and rigor into the process of assessing high potentials. Information on both current performance and future potential is integrated and considered in round table review meetings to identify those in the high potential talent pool.

The Trimetrix HD This instrument uses a 55-factor analysis to help you discover superior talent, improve communication, reduce turnover and increase overall productivity. TriMetrix HD brings the four sciences of behaviors, motivators, acumen, and competencies together in a validated, bias-free and fully integrated assessment that meets EEOC and OFCCP requirements. TriMetrix HD is available in management/staff, executive and sales versions.

While certain factors may be more difficult to assess, there are tools to help you and your team to determine the difference between a high performer and a high potential. You will be able to determine who possess the attributes of a high potential, who is using these attributes effectively, and who has the potential for moving your organization forward in order to meet your business objectives.

Thank you for reading this blog. If you need help identifying your high potentials, give us a call at 404-320-7834 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Graphic Credit Big Stock.com

Business Growth, Performance,, High Potential,