Why Employee Potential Trumps Employee Performance

Guest Contributorby Dwight Ueda | Posted | Leadership

Why Employee Potential Trumps Employee Performance

As the summer drew to a close in the United States and football camps opened for practice, chatter around quarterback Tim Tebow’s continued unemployment made its annual reappearance among his incredulous fans.

His college coach, Urban Meyer, described Mr. Tebow’s situation as baffling. It flew in the face of Tebow’s numerous college accomplishments, in particular his being the second most efficient quarterback in college football history. It's enough to make one question the wisdom of National Football League personnel experts who seem blind to Tebow’s professional potential.

Nevertheless, Jeff Schultz, a sports columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, rightly pointed out that passing efficiency is an unreliable indicator of future NFL success. Only four of the top twenty five most efficient college quarterbacks have or had successful NFL careers. Two of the most arguably successful NFL quarterbacks, Peyton Manning and Joe Montana, only rank 71 and outside of the top 250 on the all-time college quarterback efficiency list, respectively.

NFL personnel experts know this too, and discount college quarterback efficiency data when evaluating college players for their professional potential.

Why using employee performance data to predict future success fails

So, what's a sports story doing in a talent management blog?

It's intended to illustrate the error of using on-the-job performance data to predict future job performance in a different job. Specifically, it's intended to draw parallels with the way organizations use individual contributor performance data to staff management positions.

Simply put, different jobs require different skill sets.

Relying on current job performance data to determine whether a strong individual contributor will become a good manager is likely to result in poor promotional decisions. That's because the two positions have little relationship with each other. Instead you need to rely on employee potential.

The skill sets that determine success in individual contributor positions and management positions differ categorically: individual contributors rely on technical prowess; managers rely on interpersonal skills.

This difference is much more fundamental than the difference between playing quarterback in U.S. college football versus the NFL.

So, why does this practice persist?

Perhaps like the person who searches for their lost keys under the streetlight, even though they didn't lose them there, organizations insist on doing this because “that is where the light is brighter.”

So how should you evaluate employee potential for managerial roles?

1. Get a broader view of employee potential with 360 degree feedback

One potential source of data to evaluate skills transferable to management positions is 360 degree feedback, especially from peers and junior members.

This data will provide insight into the candidate’s reputation with and effect on other team members. It may also give some perspective on the candidate’s traits and how these will translate in the manager role. Nevertheless, this requires extrapolation and faith.

2. Provide potential managerial talent a trial-run

Another (more radical but more effective) approach is to promote the leading candidate to a management role on a probationary or trial basis. This allows the candidate to try the position out, and decide with your organization (i.e. HR, the hiring manager, etc.), whether it's a good fit.

Should the candidate or your organization realize that a management position is not for him/her, (s)he shouldn’t be deemed a failure.

As discussed previously, managing people is a different job function. Managers have to be willing to attend to the performance and motivation of others, as well as worrying about their own. They also have to coax the most out of difficult employees and cope with petty feuding among subordinates.

There's no way to know in advance how (s)he would respond to any of this.

3. Support employee learning and development for successful promotions

Because it's hard to prepare to assume a management role, it's important for your organization to provide lots of support and room for error. The important thing to evaluate is whether the candidate shows increasing personal awareness in the role and is improving his/her interpersonal skills.

Moreover, even if it ends in the candidate passing on the management position at this time, (s)he should be considered for future management positions if interested.

Learning and growing are lifelong pursuits. So we should support and encourage career progression and trying new things.

Your turn: What other tips/advice can you add to support more effective evaluation of employee potential for managerial roles?

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