On some of our courses, we often ask managers ‘How many of you have got people in your team who have the potential to produce better work than they are showing at the moment?’
Normally, every hand goes up.
Then we ask ‘How many of you have a proactive, well-considered process that utilises this potential every day?’
A lot fewer hands are raised!
Most of us will agree that our team members possess potential to produce better results or achieve more than they are at present, but often we don’t tap into it, and we have a plethora of reasons why that is the case.
First of all, lets look at what we mean by ‘potential’, and we can do little better than going back to our physics lessons at school.
Potential Energy, as it’s termed, is referred to as the stored energy within an object, due to its position.
A ball at the top of a hill has gravitational potential energy, for example.
The potential is dependent on two factors – the mass of the ball and the height of the hill.
Bigger objects will have greater potential energy; higher hills will also produce greater potential energy.
But that potential stays simply ‘potential’ unless and until an external force is applied to it.
Similarly, the potential within our team members remains latent until an external force is applied to it.
Now, you may have also heard of the term ‘kinetic energy’
Kinetic energy (or in this sense of its application in a business setting, “translational kinetic energy”) is the force or energy applied to to motion from one location to another,
The ball in the above example has translational kinetic energy applied to it when we push it off the top of the hill.
It is now in motion, having had force applied to it.
Similarly, when some force is supplied to the potential energy our team member has, we see a transition from one location (the potential to produce specific results) to another location (the application of energy to achieve those results).
In other words, our team member can only apply the potential inside them when there is some kind of motivational force applied to tap into that potential.
So, what can we do to actually turn the potential into kinetic application?
How can managers take what’s latent and undeveloped in a person and utilise what their possibilities and capabilities might produce?
Firstly, we must recognise that there could be barriers in the way of detecting potential in employees.
These could include:
By recognising these barriers and assessing the challenges they could produce in developing latent talent, we overlook some of the abilities that certain people have, and miss the chances that present themselves to turn potential into workable assets.
When these are recognised, we can work on improving opportunities for tapping into potential in many ways:
1) Set clear parameters for the development of staff through Key Performance Indicators and Key Result Areas
People need to see what forces are available to them to drive the kinetic energy forward.
This means having clarity of what performance levels are expected through behaviours and performance levels.
If you see people are able to achieve certain levels of performance, having had them clearly explained and measured, then there’s a greater chance of them bringing their internal forces of self-motivation to the party.
2) Be clear about expectations and assessments of what is possible to achieve
Set goals that challenge and stretch people.
This will show team members what you see they are capable of achieving, and drive them to develop skills and attitudes that will take them towards those stimulating and exciting objectives
3) Provide coaching and mentoring opportunities for people to display their creativity and potential for improvement
Even though the potential may be inside them, people still need the external forces to create the kinetic energy that will produce results.
Outside influences like training opportunities, blended learning techniques, coaching interventions, mentoring sessions and the like will help drive the connection between what they are now and what they are capable of.
4) Clarify your expectations of people and what you would like to see
This clarity will paint a good picture and a compelling vision of what you feel people are able to produce.
With the confidence this will instil in someone, it highlights the abilities people have and enables them to start displaying some of the innate attributes that would otherwise remain hidden.
Everyone at some level has potential that lays latent inside them, just waiting to be turned into action and application.
If we are able to motivate people to use that potential and turn it into kinetic energy, we move them from one state to another, and that can only be beneficial for them, you, your department and the company as a whole.