Potential to Perform

October 2, 2011

When it came to performance management, one of  the HR Heads I worked with, used to have a simple formula – reward for past performance & promote or provide a challenge for the potential. Also when hiring people especially those requiring some level of decision making, a lot of hiring managers look for attitude & character while allowing for shortfall in the competence (this is becoming more & more true with people moving across industries & borders).  In a nutshell, we are talking about potential and the promise it holds.

It is interesting to note that while many of those who look potential winners go on to succeed and make it big, there are many others, who seemed to be equally promising,but lose their way.

It is quite easy to identify the real “would be Performers” – These are people who are self-sufficient and yet most-loved team players. They would not wait for anything to happen or anyone to support them.They are raring to deliver & perform irrespective of conditions & external factors, not bothered by facilities, comforts etc. They will find their own way out of problems. There could be different factors driving different individuals but a common thread in all such performers is focus on the action & not on the reward. The reward has to come if they get the action right.

Then, there are those who “can perform” – they have the ability but lack resourcefulness. they need to be triggered and encouraged regularly. They need to be shown the direction and instructed. The motivation is external and focus most often is on what-is-there-in-this-for-me ? Push across an attractive contest & these employees will get charged.

Will perform – People with right attitude and energy but may lack the necessary skills. They are willing to venture into the unknown, riding on their confidence and they just don’t want to give up, whatever may be the roadblock.  They can be trained to bring up to the mark and will most often out-do those who ” can perform”

The most interesting people are those who are “waiting to perform” – These are high visibility people. They will have an opinion or two about everything and have lots of brilliant ideas. They impress everyone they meet and would be talked about in senior level meetings. They give an impression of being rightly skilled &  having necessary attitude but it would look as if everyone & everything around, is conspiring against them and therefore they are unable to deliver. They would have seemingly genuine reasons for not meeting their commitments and they have the ability to get away with it. The reasons can range from mundane to the most complex. They have such an aura that unwittingly, the performers would end up sharing credits with them, allowing them to thrive.

Such people drag an organisation back & cause talented performers to move away. The beauty is that it is most difficult to identify this breed of employees.

From another perspective, an organisation which continues to tolerate ” waiting to perform” behavior will end up converting ” would be performers” & ” can perform” people also to non-performers. The worst hit are those organisations, that have such an employee at a senior level position.

Identifying employees in all these categories and nurturing them appropriately can make all the difference between a successful & driven organisation and a laggard. This is more so for a small/medium sized organisation as the scope for experiment and the margin for error is limited. This is where a continuous process of skills assessment and performance management( not just evaluation or appraisal) can be of help.

It might be a good exercise to think of people you work with and see which box they qualify for. It may also be a good idea to do a self-assessment & see where you stand and finally to understand as to what kind of employees does your organisation nurture & support. Do share your thoughts on your experiences with different kinds of performers.

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