Learning & Development

How Much Stock Should an Organization Put in Potential?

Movies and TV shows are full of the cliché young hotshot who comes into the workplace with the best education and training but little or no real-world experience. In the world of fiction, the plot typically involves the young hotshot driving everyone nuts with his or her arrogance and know-it-all attitude before finding some humility and learning to bond with and learn from his or her more experienced colleagues.

Employees With Potential

In the real world, companies treat employees with little to no track record in a variety of ways. These employees are often considered to have a lot of “potential,” meaning they could turn out to be rock stars but aren’t there yet—and maybe never will be.

But organizations and managers often put a great deal of weight on an employee’s potential when making hiring and promotion decisions. Call it being great at picking winners, a good feeling, or simply a hunch, but organizations regularly make judgment calls about candidates’ likelihood of performing at a higher level than they are currently through more responsibility, experience, and training.

The Role of ‘Potential’ and the Importance of Nurturing It

It’s logical to make such decisions based on potential, particularly in a tight labor market in which those who have proven abilities are hot commodities and hard (and expensive) to hire and retain. Individuals with potential, however, may be a diamond in the rough—a way to land a stellar team member with relative ease and frugality.

Unfortunately, individuals with strong potential don’t always turn out as well as the employer hoped. This isn’t necessarily the employees’ fault. Potential must often be nurtured for it to fully develop, and managers who hire or promote someone with strong potential and then neglect the employee waste an opportunity to groom a possible star performer.

Organizations often identify employees with apparent potential and flag them for recruitment or advancement. But potential without demonstrated results can end up in disappointment, particularly when those with the potential aren’t given the development opportunities and support they need to truly excel.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.

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