High Performance and High Potential: What’s the Difference?

apples and orangePerformance and Potential. Both start with the letter P, and both are associated with workers’ evaluations. That is as far as the similarities go, however.

Performance shows you what an employee can currently do and what they do based on their responsibilities. But an employee that has high potential is entirely different. High potential employees are the ones who aspire to greater responsibilities, are eager to learn new skills and who are strongly engaged in their jobs. A high performing employee doesn’t always have the skills to move into a higher position – from accounting to management of accounting staff, for example. An employee with a lot of potential, however, may not be entirely strong yet in terms of their current performance metrics.

Identifying High Potential Employees

If you’re looking to find high potential employee, look to those who set high standards for themselves and who have high aptitudes for learning new tasks and exploring new roles.  You may find that although those employees have inconsistent performance, they shine when given the opportunity to lead.

Using Appraisals to Measure Potential

Employee appraisals are a strong tool for judging how your employees are doing their jobs, but they could be a tool to judge an employee’s potential as well.

You can ask specific questions that are meant to give information about how well an employee might do in a future role. If you have specific employees in mind for leadership roles, you might find that a potential-focused review with specifically pointed questions is the right employee appraisal tool to determine whether specific employees can move forward in your company or not. By establishing goals and talking about further training, you can help develop those high potential/low performance employees.

Some common questions to ask employees to gauge potential include:

  1. When do you feel you will be ready for your next promotion?
  2. What are your future career plans?

Some common questions to ask managers to gauge their employee’s potential include:

  1. Could the employee perform at a higher level, in a different position or take on increased responsibilities within the next year (consider the person’s ability only, not whether there is a position available to support this growth)?
  2. Can you envision this employee performing two levels above his or her current position in the next five to six years?
  3. Could the employee learn the additional skills and competencies he or she needs to be able to perform at a higher or different level?
  4. Does the employee demonstrate an ability to comfortably interact with people at a higher level or in different areas?
  5. Does the employee demonstrate comfort with a broader company perspective than his or her job currently requires?
  6. Does the employee demonstrate flexibility and motivation to move into a job that might be different than any that currently exist?
  7. Does the employee welcome opportunities for learning and development?

To help with all of this, we recommend emPerform, which allows you to modify a series of questions you can ask both managers and employees to help identify strong potential. This information can then be mapped to a Nine-Box Talent Matrix and displayed by division or company-wide.

See also: Building your A-Team: Assessing Employee Performance vs. Potential