Performance, potential or effort – What’s the issue here? And why does it matter? In our experience these 3 aspects at work are frequently entangled and cause a lot of confusion and mixed messages. It helps if we can split them out, then people can think about:

  • Effort: How much effort are they expending at work and what results are they getting? How productive and effective are they really? Could the effort they are putting in be better utilised? Effort can be measured in duration and number of days/hours taken to do the work.
  • Performance: This tells us about results: what are the results? How impressive are they and what did we expect? How would we know this was high performance? This requires measuring in terms of actual results and outcomes.
  • Potential: This is all about the future and forecasting what someone might be capable of at a future time. This is different from aspirations and ambitions which is a whole different article. Potential can change as well, especially if people get key experiences which unlocks aspects and talents previously latent. Harder to measure, there are assessments which help, such as the Korn Ferry Assessment of Leadership Potential.

High effort is not necessarily high performance, and this can cause misunderstandings.

Consider the statement: “You were lucky, that piece of work was amazing, but everything was lined up and you needed almost no effort”, against “You worked so hard, did everything you could, but still did not complete the task”.  These 2 examples demonstrate different performance and effort combinations. For managers who want to increase the performance of their people and optimise the effort required, it’s important to be able to differentiate and give clear feedback on what is needed next.

Potential is then often confused with current performance. Potential describes what we believe the individual may be capable of doing sometime in the future. They are not doing it at the current time. Many organisations assess several sorts of potential including next level promotability and general management/ senior leadership potential. The first requires us to understand what is different between the current level and the promoted level. Does it require management and leadership skills currently not needed, or does it need more strategic and broader perspective thinking? These areas can be difficult to develop and frequently are challenging as they require us to think and work differently from before.

Korn Ferry would suggest that being Learning Agile is a key criterion for being able to progress. For longer term potential we need to consider several factors including learning agility, leadership traits, drive and self-awareness. Research tells us that the most successful senior leaders have these. We also know that not all high performers have high potential. But we do know from Korn Ferry research that most high potentials are high performers.

So, understanding someone’s performance is a good start. We then need to consider what their potential is by looking at other factors such as learning agility. Effort may also come back into the mix in terms of how much effort is someone prepared to put in for career advancement.

Developing people to achieve their full potential, whatever that might be, requires us as leaders and managers to consider all 3 aspects together: effort, performance and potential in its widest sense. To talk to us more about assessing potential, learning agility and more generally about talent management, email or call +44 333 987 5072.