High potential or high performance?

Potential.  It’s an intriguing word, isn’t it?  “(Person/team/company) has the potential to be great.  This product has the potential to change people’s lives.”  We have all said, heard, or seen statements like these.  It’s what makes ‘potential’ such a maddening word.  On the one hand, it hints of tremendous promise; on the other, it alludes to unrealized opportunity.  It also applies to the corporate arena where companies work to identify future star performers, budding leaders, or others who they believe are high-value employees.  So why do more than half of such employees leave within five years?   

Part of the reason is not truly knowing your people – what motivates them, what are their aspirations, how invested are in they in the company?  That last question often gets ignored as companies spend a lot of time and money on leadership and training programs, only to see the beneficiaries leave and apply that knowledge elsewhere. 

Some experts say the problem is one of process, that too many businesses do an inadequate job of managing talent, which goes back to not knowing your people very well.  Hard to really blame most companies for that; they’re busy with tending to their core product or service, putting out fires with unhappy customers, developing ways to differentiate themselves from competitors, and handling the day-to-day aspects of running an organization.  The cogs that make the system go are too often regarded as, well, as cogs.  One person leaves, another comes in; if that person doesn’t work out, the cycle repeats. 

Whether the economy is truly past the recession is a matter of whom you ask, but among the Hiring Lab at Indeed.com finds that half of those searching for their job are looking outside of their current occupation.  Not to be repetitive, but this goes back to knowing your people.  It’s one thing for a person to want to leave a boss, it’s marginally different when that individual is looking to leave the company, but this people ready to bolt entire industries. 

People tend to gravitate toward the things that interest them.  Compare the degrees that many college graduates hold with what they actually do for a living.  Obviously, I am a proponent of assessments for the purposes of determining job fit.  I want to know what gets someone excited because, chances are, that person will be successful working in such a position.  I want to know how someone thinks in order to have some means of predicting how they will handle certain situations, whether or not they’ll fit the culture, and whether they are the type person a company might want to target as a potential (there’s THAT word again) employee to groom for the long haul. 

As it is, employees stay in a job for less than five years, on average.  Consider the cost of recruiting, hiring, training, supporting, and paying that person for five years vs. the value that he or she brought to the company.  Net gain or net loss?  Or did you just break even?  If you don’t know the answer to those questions, that is a problem.  Answers, however, can be discovered providing you’re willing to do a little work in order to get them. 

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