Nick Ruhmann
October 19, 2016

ARTICLE: High Potentials are Made, Before They can be Found

Almost every other day there's some article revolving around identifying the "high potentials" within your organization, or attracting and keeping them.  Heck the Netflix culture deck that I wrote about in February is an entire plan based around the idea of weeding out low performers and keeping high performers.  It seems the entire world is trying to figure out how to filter out the chaff in search of the good seeds.


All these guides and articles seem to focus on:

  1. A rigorous performance criteria and performance management process - set the goals, hold people accountable, manage out the low performers.
  2. Spend your time on the high potentials - heck don't waste time on the low performers, save it for the winners.
  3. Fill the bench with high performers and pit them against each other - high performance people attract other high performers (the whole Steve Jobs "A" Players don't want to work with "B" Players deal)

Where do all these naturally occurring All-stars come from anyhow? Is there some secret sauce, or college that's prepping a ready made source of kick butt new hires that we are missing?  How in the world can a company grow to a decent size and still find enough "A Players" ?

I've been labeled a "high potential" many times in my career...but I'm here to tell you I wasn't anywhere deserving of that "label" at first.  I was a mess.  I was afraid to speak publicly in front of almost any crowd, I was shy, introverted, book smart, and probably to some people - a little provincial.

(I was after all - just a farm kid that happened to be good at math and showed up for work the first day wearing my typical cowboy boots)

How in the heck did I suddenly become a "high potential" ?

I had good scratch that, I had AWESOME teachers.

I had managers that gave me confidence, that tested my pressure limits (slowly but surely), leadership that was willing to give me second chances (and yes I needed a few of those back in my 20's), and most of all - a lot of patience and attention.  

I had managers that weren't stretched thin trying to develop 10 or 15 direct my early managers had 4-5, or maybe 7 people to manage...and rarely more than 1 newbie (like me) at a time.  They gave me their time, their attention, their knowledge - they INVESTED in me, and I wasn't always performing in a way that probably said, invest here.  But they did it anyways - they saw that as THEIR JOB.

So next time you're worried about attracting talent, and filtering out the low performers on your bench - ask yourself this question:

Are you good at creating high potentials, or just good at stealing them from managers / leaders that are ?

The first is in short supply, the second is a dime a dozen...


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