Pick potential over performance every time

by Stephanie Zillman30 Apr 2013

The big dogs of the office command attention – they consistently smash targets, and are the darlings of the CFO. But according to a leading HR consultant, the stars of the office do not always have the leadership potential to help the company achieve its future business goals.

“Just because a member of the sales team is delivering outstanding results, doesn’t mean they have the ability to lead a team, deliver on strategy or pilot new initiatives,” Stephanie Christopher, managing director, SHL said.

It’s up to HR to look past the ‘on paper’ results, and identify employees with the potential to move into future leadership roles. It’s likely that those with the potential to go far might not be the best performers, but rather, those with great communication skills, who can handle high-pressure situations or have a real passion to take on more responsibility. Christopher said an understanding of the strengths of individuals and teams identifies current and future skills gaps and helps HR substantiate the need for training and development programs.

SHL outlined key areas for assessment, and the process can take the form of a talent audit in order to identify both available and missing skills so HR can focus their efforts in the areas that will help the company achieve business objectives.

  • Results – Usually the first thing managers ask about as an indicator of a great employee. However, KPI and target metrics only measure an employee’s success to date and not their ability to meet the company’s future objectives.
  • Behaviour – The ‘how’ behind performance and results, HR should take into consideration the employee’s personality, communication skills, and ability to motivate others. This is a current measure of an employee’s ability.
  • Potential – Reflects an employee’s skill and likelihood that they will suit the business in different roles in future. Potential is a forward measure and HR needs to remember that not all high performers have high potential.
  • Motivation/aspiration – Do individual employees actually desire promotion and leadership development? There is no point forcing an employee into roles they don’t want, and if performing well in their current role, they may be best left where they are.


  • by Dr Tim Baker 30/04/2013 4:10:00 PM

    The article is a good reminder that leaders should not necessarily be chosen on the basis of superior technical skills. The skills of leading are more often than not a different skills-set to the technical skills required.

    On the other hand, without some good technical know-how, the leader is not likely to be respected by his or her peers.

    The ideal arrangement is for an organisation to have two career paths. One path is for those who aspire and have the aptitude to lead and the other for those to grow and develop their technical skills.

    The problem is: there is usually only one pathway; and that is the managerial route. Consequently, we get the wrong people in management and at the same time lose valuable technical capacity.

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