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It’s easy to talk about potential and performance as if they’re the same thing. You assume that your high performing employees will deliver rock star results in any capacity because that’s what’s driven them succeed so far, right? And you assume that your high potentials will master any new opportunity they’re given because that’s what potential means… Right?

Not necessarily. Let’s take a closer look at the differences between high performer and high potential.

High performers: These people stand out in their current role. They do their job exceptionally well, so it’s only natural that you look to them when it’s time to make a key promotion decision. The problem is, the skills that helped them achieve high performer status don’t always translate to new roles or environments.

High potentials: These people have the capacity to perform well in many roles. Their range of skills makes them an asset to your organization, but it’s important to remember that high potentials are still developing. They’ll need time to grow into a new role and probably won’t look like a high performer right away.

So what’s the risk? The cost of confusing performance and potential is bigger than you might think. According to Pinsight, a leader in simulation assessments:

“If high performers get assigned a new role that they aren’t cut out for, you’ve simultaneously sacrificed a star performer and compromised efficiency in the new position. Alternately, if you assume that a high potential already has what it takes to deliver exceptional results, you’re likely to discourage them and disappoint yourself.”

In other words, a wrong decision about either type of employee is a turnover risk, and you need to know the difference in order to provide them with the right type of incentive. For example, high potentials crave development opportunities, while high performers are motivated by rewards or recognition.

OK, so you’ve got high potentials in one hand and high performers in the other, but is it possible for employees to fall into both categories? Read on in this blog: High Performing High Potentials: The New Gold Standard.