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How to manage high performers

3 years ago | Nyree

Having a team of high potential people is the greatest asset you can have when building a business. Yet many leaders lack experience in both finding talent and criteria on which to hire. Although hiring is one of the most important jobs a leader can do, many don’t take it seriously enough. Simply going through a CV and chatting is not the way to hire a rockstar team.

Too many of us hire on gut feel and regret it down the line. Yes, we have an interviewing process, check candidates based on hard and soft skills, and make an assessment based on how they fit in with the team and the culture, but for me it’s about hiring explicitly for high potential.

The people you hire directly impacts how and when you take your business to the next level. Ditch the long-held belief that experience trumps all, instead of looking for what a candidate has previously achieved, consider high potential – which applicants have the ability to accomplish big stuff in the future?

Attributes to consider

1. A drive to excel High potentials are driven to succeed. They are more than willing to go that extra mile and realise they may have to make sacrifices to advance. Sheer ambition may lead them to make hard choices. They are explorers and take on the challenges of leaving their comfort zones to progress. 

2. A catalytic learning capability High potentials possess what I call a catalytic learning capability. They have the capacity to scan for new ideas, the cognitive capability to absorb them, and the common sense to translate new learning into productive action. High potentials are always searching for productive ways to blaze new paths. 

3. Dynamic sensors Successful high potentials have a well-tuned radar that puts a higher premium on quality results. Beyond judgment, high potentials possess an instinct for timing, to quickly read situations, and a nose for opportunity. They have a knack for being in the right place at the right time. They are anticipatory. 

4. They are willing to endure hardship Work isn’t always easy, there are times when a customer is grinding away, and they need someone to stay late to render assistance. High potentials don’t walk away. The never enough mentality delivers focus to generate a buzz and goodwill to dig in when it matters.

5. A knack for seeing the bigger picture. Folks with high potential are highly always engaged and show an interest in learning beyond the immediate scope of their role. They are curious about the organisations’ goals and wish to help in achieving those outcomes. In their mind, they see their own success as being directly tied to the success of the organisation.

6. Focus on soft skills ahead of hard skills. Shift the focus away from technical skills – these can be learned – and focus on people skills – their style of engagement and tone of voice in conversation, sincerity, and natural ability to connect with people, and propensity to lead. Do they fit with, and can articulate, your cultural values?

7. Look beyond what is in front of them today and envision a picture of tomorrow. The question is not whether new hires have the right skills, it’s whether they have the potential to learn new ones. Don’t evaluate candidates just for today, look at their potential alongside you future business vision, and potential to contribute to that. 

And final three attributes

Derived from Daniel Pink’s book Drive, Pink identified three elements of the motivation formula we can find in high potentials – autonomy, mastery, and purpose – as to why folk find themselves pursuing achievement in something new to satisfy an innate internal desire:

Autonomy Our self-direction is a natural inclination. Pink asserts we’re all built with inner drive, some folks are just in a higher gear than others. I’ve never been passive and inert, I’ve always gone hell-for-leather and go the extra mile as standard. Apparently, this is because I have what Pink calls ‘autonomy driven motivation’. I’m curious about what I can achieve as a challenge to myself.

Mastery We want to get better at doing things. It’s why learning a language, new sporting technique or a musical instrument can be so frustrating at first. Mastery is the desire to get better at something that matters. Firstly, it is a mindset, in that we believe we can get better. Second, mastery is a pain, in that it involves not only working harder but working longer at the same thing. Finally, mastery is an asymptote, or a straight line that you may come close to but never reach. 

Purpose People who find purpose in their life unlock the highest level of the motivation game. Pink says that it’s connecting to a cause larger than yourself that drives the deepest motivation. Purpose is what gets you out of bed in the morning and into work without groaning and grumbling — something that you just can’t fake. Purpose provides a context for autonomy and mastery. It addresses the situation that even when we get what we want, it is not what we need. Purpose-oriented people view work through the lens of personal fulfilment and contributing to other people’s lives.

High potential isn’t easy to observe, it is often drowned out by the less obvious attributes and behaviours that characterise people’s capabilities. However, based on my experience of identifying the traits of ‘high potentials’ maybe use this framework to make the assessment next time you’re hiring.

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