High potential employees or high performers?

High performance or high potential?

Every organisation has limited resources for learning and development, even when it comes to management development. So, when developing high-potential employees, HR professionals should consider their priorities. Usually there are two groups of employees for leadership development programmes: high performance employees and high potentials.

It is relatively easy to identify high-performance employees. They often exceed expectations, have a stellar reputation and often are go-to persons when challenging projects arise. They are good at what they do, but often have no desire to work on a higher level. High-potentials are more difficult to identify. First, they are often in the shadow of high-performers. High-potential employees are not always high-performers, but they posses other characteristics which are equally important for organisations: learnability, cognitive agility and desire to change. Second, not many organisations pay attention to competencies and behaviours of high-potential employees and managers can only use performance indicators.

It is hard to identify high-potentials. Most companies don't invest in the employees with the highest potential in the management development programmes.

Peter principle

The Peter principle that many consider as a joke, really works: "in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence". It basically states that a person who is competent at their job will eventually earn a promotion to a position that requires different skills they don't possess. At this level (also called "Final Placement" or "Peter's Plateau") they are no more competent. Organisations become less hierarchical, but Peter principle remains relevant, because organisations still promote employees based on their past performance.

Promotions in most organisations are still based on past performances, so Peter principle is still relevant.

Employees on different organisation level require different set of skills. So current skillset is not as important in the long-term perspective as the ability to acquire new knowledge and skills.

Leadership potential and key leadership drivers

Potential is a type of thinking and set of practical skills that allow some employees to grow constantly, using new tools and strategies to solve ever-increasing challenges.

Leadership potential is defined by so called key leadership drivers. Leadership drivers can be measured as they are manifested in the particular behaviours. They allow to predict how successful would be the future leaders in the wide variety of situations. In SNAPSIM™ key leadership indicators are:

  • learning agility
  • ambition
  • persistency

All three characteristics are important. If just one is missing, we can't say that the employee would become a true leader. He or she would be in one of the following state:

  • if the employee has learning agility and ambition, but doesn't have persistency to deliver, they can be an excellent coach and mentor that would help others achieve their goals,
  • if the employee has ambition and persistency, but low levels of learning agility, they would thrive in highly predictable environments where there clear and steady procedures,
  • if the employee has learning agility and persistency but low levels of ambition, they have all chances to become authorities in their area of expertise.

Learning agility

True leaders are open to new ideas and constantly develop new skills. It is also known that achievers are able to learn from their own experience. Careers of managers who can't change their behaviours soon stall, but those to able to change, continue to thrive. The latter demonstrate ability to learn.

Learning agility is about how an individual can learn new information, to perform training tasks, solve cases, as well how they can apply new knowledge and skills on the job.

In more wider context, learning agility reflects cognitive abilities. Managers that have high cognitive abilities:

  • learn fast when new tasks arise,
  • is open to new ways of doing things,
  • ready to change,
  • analyses both successes and failures,
  • ready to experiment,
  • likes challenging tasks,
  • quickly grasps the essence of any event or idea.

Learning agility is supported by the following personal traits:

  • cognitive abilities: abilities to process and use new information,
  • adaptivity: ability to adapt to new situations, to transfer new knowledge and skills to new situations,
  • curiosity: desire to know or learn something new.


Achieving high results in any field is based on the strong desire to succeed. Ambition and optimism allow to "go from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm". Managers with ambitions feel full responsibility for their careers. They understand what they can and can't and often take new challenges to develop skills and behaviours needed for the roles they want. Managers with ambitions:

  • plan their careers,
  • try to overcome obstacles,
  • put efforts to achieve set goals,
  • ready to take new assignments and projects,
  • look for development opportunities.

Ambition is supported by the following personal characteristics:

  • self-confidence: ability to cope with the negative perception of oneself; confidence in one's abilities,
  • desire to make a difference: make impact on people and shape the future,
  • taking responsibility: ability to be responsible for one's own actions and for the others.


To achieve anything in business, one has to put long hours into work. But there is a difference between working hard and being a workaholic. Effective managers achieve results and can easily switch off. Workaholics struggle to psychologically detach from work. The need to work persistently is a good habit and contributes to a long and healthy life. Workaholics just burn their candle at both sides. Managers who are persistent:

  • work enthusiastically, trying to achieve set goals,
  • have clear priorities and follow them,
  • understand that problems and obstacles are inevitable and are ready to overcome them,
  • embrace failures and move forward, trying new approaches and ideas.

Working persistently is a healthy need sound human habit that is supported by the following characteristics:

  • optimism: belief that that the outcome will be positive and desirable,
  • focus: ability to concentrate for a long time,
  • passion: a genuine passion, working in the flow state.

How SNAPSIM™ can help you to identify high potentials in your organisation?

SNAPSIM™ analyses the actions of users when they learn and presents the results combined into three leadership drivers: learning agility, ambition, perseverance.

The analysis allows to identify what learners want to do and can do, as well as their persistence in achieving set goals, and agility with which new knowledge and skills are acquired and put into practice.

Managers and HR professionals get information on leadership potential of employees in the easy to understand form.

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