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High Performers and High-Potential Employees Are Not One in the Same Not being able to distinguish between performance and potential will make it difficult for employers to identify, develop and retain talent.

By Andre Lavoie Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


High-potential talent (HiPo) are employees who have the ability and aspiration to be successful leaders within an organization. While it might make sense for a high-performing employee to also have high potential, that's not always the case. An employee might be great at their job and take pride in their work and accomplishments, but may not have the potential (or desire) to assume a leadership role.

Not being able to distinguish between performance and potential will make it difficult for employers to identify, develop and retain talent. All high potentials are high performers, but not all high performers are high potentials. Mistaking a high-performing employee for a high-potential employee can be costly.

Related: 8 Lessons Learned Studying World-Class Achievers

High-potential employees can be harder to identify -- especially considering that performance and potential are not mutually exclusive. So what do employers need to look for? To easily spot high-potential employees within an organization, here are four common traits of high potentials vs. high performers:

1. Proactive vs. reactive

One of the most obvious traits of an employee with the potential to succeed in a leadership role is whether they take on a proactive or reactive approach to problem-solving.

A proactive employee plans for the future -- they don't wait until a crisis occurs to react. Reactive employees, on the other hand, wait until the very moment a problem arises to come up with a solution (hence being referred to as firefighters). While both approaches aim to solve the problem, the proactive approach is more effective and telling of future leaders.

Freedom from firefighting gives employees and leaders more time to implement the prepared strategies and processes to address the issue.

2. Leaders vs. followers

Not every employee strives to climb the corporate ladder. Some employees are perfectly happy in their current positions and have zero desire to lead and manage a team -- and that's fine. After all, behind every successful leader is a team of high performers. Instead of looking for obvious candidates for leadership based on performance alone, take individual contributions and personality traits into consideration.

High-potential employees are often characterized by their ability to go above and beyond the call of duty. They don't leave the office the second the clock strikes five. They don't focus on me, myself and I, but on the team as a whole. They do look for opportunities to contribute their skills and demonstrate their leadership abilities.

Related: Here Are 4 Ways to Develop a Culture of Respect and Trust

3. Receptive vs. unreceptive to feedback

Anyone can shake their head "yes" when receiving constructive criticism, but it takes a high-potential employee to take that feedback, remember it and apply it. Employees who are truly receptive to feedback will take immediate action, not to save their own skin, but to become an all-around better worker.

During performance check-ins, discuss feedback with employees, and identify areas where that feedback was successfully applied. Employees with high potential will avoid making the same mistake twice.

4. Knowing the business vs. knowing the job

In the end, it comes down to knowing the business vs. knowing the job. High performers and high potentials both strive to reach peak performance, but HiPo talent aims above that peak.

Rather than just doing what they need to succeed in their individual roles, high-potential employees take the entire business into account. They can clearly see how their work contributes to overall success and set out to achieve the company vision through achieving their individual work goals. Whereas high performers seek to do well as individuals, high potentials desire to do well as a company.

What do you think? What are some other indicators of a high-potential employees? Let us know in the comments section below!

Related: 5 Secrets to Coaching Your Employees to Greatness

Andre Lavoie

Entrepreneur; CEO and Co-Founder, ClearCompany

Andre Lavoie is the CEO of ClearCompany, the talent-management solution that helps companies identify, hire and retain more A players. You can connect with him and the ClearCompany team on Facebook LinkedIn and Twitter.


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