How To Work With Your High-potential and Low-performing Employees?

Akshit Dangi

In any organization, your team is what’s going to carry an organization from 0 to 1 and then speedrun it from 1 to 100. However, a strange and confusing thing may happen through different performance reviews, talent reviews, and 1:1s.

As you spend time reviewing your talent, you may come across individuals who haven’t been performing all that well but have shown a considerable amount of potential through their actions. It could be through demonstrating a leadership quality or an action outside their work that may have propelled them to such status.

Here’s the question, though—what can you do about such people?

Well, if you take a plunge into the annals of history, what managers have done all this while is simply give up on such low-performing lot from the organization. But we reject that, as it is better to give managing these members a shot and bring them into the high-performance gang.

If you’re wondering how to do that, read on to understand why terminating such people’s jobs is simply not the way to go.

Not all high performers have high potential

This may hurt some people, but performing well on the job does not equate to being a great manager or a leader. When you conduct your talent review, you are sure to identify people that have demonstrated a high level of performance for their responsibilities. 

Take an example of a content marketer. They have been killing it with their written content goals and producing many great pieces each quarter. But does the number of pieces they write mean they are also ready to help the rest of the team reach their targets?

The answer depends on the individual’s potential. This does not mean that their performance does not matter, but what we mean here is that it is not the only thing that builds a robust talent pipeline. If your people have demonstrated some qualities essential to controlling the helm in the future, they may be ready for more executive roles.

Source: HBR

Sometimes, however, this does not work out, and organizations may find themselves with workhorses that are not yet ready to take up the appropriate responsibilities in the future. Now, you can certainly train and develop these individuals to take up bigger responsibilities in the future—that’s what you do with your workplace’s stars too, but if it doesn’t work out, you’ll be left with nowhere to go.

This is not common either, as according to an HBR’s global study, only 15% of North American/Asian Companies and 30% of European companies believe they have enough qualified successors for critical positions. For all we know, that number has increased quite significantly since the study.

But what if the leader you need is right within your organization but unable to perform due to certain circumstances? I’m sure you see what we mean here—your high potential with low performance must be retained and worked with. They are simply a diamond in the rough, and it’s up to you to use the right method of bringing out their shine.

But how do you do it? How do you work with these high-potentials?

Reconnect and communicate

Yep, it’s just that easy. To turn such low performers around, you need to understand a simple formula:

An Individual’s Performance = Their Abilities X Their Motivation. 

With this, it’s easy to understand that we need to focus on utilizing such people’s abilities in a way that genuinely motivates them. To achieve this, here are a few things that you can do:

Change or enrich their goals or responsibilities

When employees fail to perform, it could either be due to a lack of skill or a lack of will. There’s a high chance that your high-potential team member isn’t performing well because they cannot find the motivation to give their best. This lack of motivation may come from their inability to utilize their skills optimally, which can be rooted in multiple reasons.

To counter this, try to enrich or straight up change their goals and responsibilities and give them tasks that require them to use their skillset well. If you’re preparing a development plan, make sure to include opportunities that would provide a challenge to these individuals and refill their motivation.

Check in with them regularly

You’ll have to maintain a high level of focus on high-potential individuals with low performance, especially in their day-to-day tasks. Ensure that you conduct 1:1s with them frequently to train, coach, and nurture the leader in them.

Not to mention, if something doesn’t work out very well, try to realign and change things around a little. The key here is to keep track of their progress regularly and ensure that they don’t stray from their path to success.

Pair them up with a high- performer

The drive to succeed can be contagious. Nothing pushes an individual to use their abilities to the limit than seeing others around them do the same. So, to push a high-potential individual’s performance, place them in tasks alongside some of your star performers. It may give them the final weight in boosting their performance to match their high-performing counterpart.

Everyone deserves a chance

It’s important to remember that every individual in an organization counts. Every single one of them is important to drive success. It’s not just limited to those with high potential. You may have people that are neither performing well nor have a high potential. Before taking any harsh steps, understand that they too deserve to reconnect with you and their team once before everything ends. 

As mentioned earlier, a sustainable and scalable solution to this problem is to set up regular 1:1 check-ins to gather and share continuous feedback. This will allow you to identify the cause behind the actions early on and prevent things from worsening to a point where you’ll be forced to take some hard calls.

At the end of the day, everyone can provide some value to the organization, what matters is how we surface those values.

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