Seth McColley Headline Animator

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Performance vs. Potential...is there a difference?

Is there a difference between performance and potential? 

The answer is a resounding yes, particularly when you're talking about talent and employee development. The mistake that many (if not most) organizations make these days is that they're confusing one for the other or even worse, lumping them into the same group (and usually calling them high potential or Hi Po). Having supported sales organizations a few different times in my career, I've seen this play out more times than I can count. It goes something like this...

Sales Director: "I've got an open Sales Manager spot to fill and I think Bobby is the right guy for the job."

HR Manager: "Oh yeah...how's that? 

Sales Director: "Well, he's got the best sales numbers in the entire division! Did you take a look at the TPS reports last week? The guy's been killing it for the last three quarters. He's a perfect fit."

HR Manager: "Of course I looked at the TPS reports! I know he's the best salesperson on your team, but what makes him the most qualified for the open role? Has he led a team before? Has he ever managed anyone?"

Sales Director: "What's it matter? Bobby is the top salesperson on my team. He's a natural leader!"

Anyone else ever had this conversation? Can I get an 'amen' up in here?


It was Abraham Maslow that said, "If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail."

One of the biggest mistakes that organizations can make, when it comes to their talent, is mistaking high potential for high performance. This great blog post from Kyle Lagunas of Software Advice, gives managers some tools to help identify, assess and develop high potentials and high performers. Check this out... 
"High performers stand out in any organization. They consistently exceed expectations, and are management’s go-to people for difficult projects because they have a track record of getting the job done. They’re great at their job and take pride in their accomplishments, but may not have the potential (or the desire) to succeed in a higher-level role or to tackle more advanced work.
High potentials are birds of a different feather. Malcolm Munro, President at Total Career Mastery, LLC, says that “High potentials have demonstrated initial aptitude for their technical abilities and…have future potential to make a big impact.” In short, they can do more for the organization–possibly much more–with the caveat that high potentials who are consistently low performers are rarely strong candidates for management roles.
High potentials can be difficult to identify, for two reasons. First, high performance is so blindingly easy to observe that it drowns out the less obvious attributes and behaviors that characterize high potentials–like change management or learning capabilities.
Second, few organizations codify the attributes and competencies they value in their ideal employees–which means that managers don’t know precisely what to look for to assess potential. As a result, most managers focus exclusively on performance, and that can be a problem." 
True. Dat.

I've seen high performance get mistaken for high potential, firsthand, and you know what it usually equates to? 

Style over substance.

When an employee is earmarked as "high potential" it's often times because they're operating as such a high level at their current job. They may look the part, say the right things, and put themselves in front of the right people it doesn't always mean that they're capable of doing more. Style over substance.

Lagunas goes on share some ways to assess performance and potential and then lays out some development strategies for both. Check out his full article here.

Clearly, managing and developing talent ain't easy. As HR pros, the least we can do is get some practical tools into the hands of our managers and leaders so they can start understanding the difference between potential and performance.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Sum of You

"A smooth sea never yielded a skilled sailor."
- Unknown

This is, without a doubt, one of my all-time, favorite quotes. I got this from a buddy back in college and it's stuck with me every since. This may be news to some of you, but life is messy. As much as we try to protect, insulate and shield ourselves from the chaos going on all around us, sooner or later we're going to be tried and tested.

Two weeks ago my position was eliminated. I didn't see this one coming. I went into work that Friday morning, I got the news by 9:15am and by 9:45am I was sitting in Starbucks , sipping on a vanilla latte, reviewing my paperwork, making notes and putting together my plan. I was being tried and tested.

This wasn't the first speed bump in my career. It probably won't be my last. But I didn't have time to sulk, worry or lose sleep about the 'what ifs' and the 'what abouts'. I channeled my inner Sweet Brown. My focus was (and still is) on tapping into my network, cultivating new relationships, helping others who are in the same spot, blogging, and putting my 15+ years of HR experience to good use (shameless plug!)

At the end of the day, I'm a better HR pro after being tried and tested. Having been on the other side of the table for too many of these conversations (and there will be more to come), I can empathize in a way that I was not able to before. We are talking about human resources here and I believe that compassion still has a place in the world of work. 

This summer we spent some time in Orlando for a family vacation. One of the highlights of the trip was a new (relatively) ride at Epcot called The Sum of all Thrills. In short, you get to design and "ride" your own roller coaster. It's sponsored by Raytheon, so they got these high tech, whiz bang contraptions that actually simulate roller coasters. As you're designing your ride, you can choose the style (bobsled, coaster, etc.), the speed, the height of the drops and you can add features like loops, corkscrews, cobra rolls, etc. After you design your ride, you hop in the simulator, buckle up and hang on tight while your ride comes to life, right before your eyes. It's crazy fun!

It got me thinking...what if we could design our own careers? What would it look like? What kind of features would you trick your career out with? Would you add any huge drops? How fast would you want to go? Would you throw a couple of loops in there? My guess is that given the chance, we would map out a career that was safe, stable and had a steady trajectory. Most of us would keep the tricks out of the equation. But, like I said earlier, life if messy. The irony is that those dips, loops and drops build character and make us better at what we do. How can a sailor really be considered any good if they've never weathered and endured any storms?

Speaking of roller coasters, I'll wrap it up with this clip from Parenthood (great movie, by the way!). No need to watch the entire clip, as the real "meat" is in the first three minutes. There's a lot of wisdom in Grandma's words here, even if she does end up in the neighbor's car!   

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Built to Last - What HR and leaders can learn from the world's greatest rock band. Ever.

When you look at this picture, I know what you may be thinking - what would compel four seemingly normal people to get THEIR picture taken with this guy flashing the "hook 'em horns" sign?

The reality is that this is me and I'm getting MY picture taken with these four complete strangers who went all out for the Kiss concert about two weeks ago. And by the way, I was flashing a "rock on", not a "hook 'em" (but just a one-day only, special circumstances type deal).


I got invited to the show (Kiss and
Mötley Crüe are touring together right now) by a co-worker and I couldn't resist. Free ticket, VIP box seats, been a Kiss fan since elementary school, owned a Kiss belt buckle, still own 13 Kiss LPs (no kidding), never seen them live, etc. It was a no brainer.

Not that you came here for a concert review, but if we were keeping score...


Kiss - 1

Mötley
Crüe - 0

Don't get me wrong, the Crüe was good. They were loud, they were blowing stuff up, they were raunchy, they were...well, M
ötley Crüe. But I had a hard time discerning one song to the next and Vince Neil sounded like a hyena in heat. Just sayin'.

Kiss on the other hand, was perfection. These guys are professionals, no doubt about it. They were just as loud, but they were crisp, they were tight and they were...not raunchy. Over the years they've been knocked for putting on shows that were too staged and too choreographed. Seems people wanted more spontaneity and "wheels off" stuff that comes with a live performance. Right, wrong or indifferent that's not what Kiss is about. Let me be clear, they are very intentional about how a performance should run.
They've been doing this for nearly forty (4-0) years, for crying out loud!

Which brings me (finally) to my point. As I was soaking it all in and thinking about my experience that night, I couldn't help but think about this from a talent angle. I came away with three key things that I think all HR pros and leaders could learn from the greatest rock band ever.

Be Willing To Take Risks
Dateline: New York City, 1973.

Can you imagine the reaction people had when these guys first pitched their idea? 

"Let me get this straight...you guys wanna to put make up on your faces, dress up in crazy costumes, wear platform shoes and you, you with the long tongue, you're going to split blood out of your mouth and breath fire? You won't make out of your first gig alive!"

Guess what? It worked and it worked well. Still works.

As HR pros and leaders, we need to be willing to roll the dice at times and take a chance on something that may be turn out to be a complete bust. Last week, Tim Sackett wrote this post about how some of the best HR ideas aren't coming out of big HR shops. Best practices are well and good, but they're safe and they're not going to take you and your team to the next level. What are you doing to push the envelope and blaze your own trail? 

Build Your Brand
Kiss, specifically Gene Simmons, is a marketing genius. Point blank. Check out this quote...
"Rock & roll is, in fact, all about gimmicks. Most people love gimmicks. I love gimmicks — Jerry Lee Lewis getting up and playing the piano with his foot. I love all of it — anything that puts on a show, where the performer makes a spectacle of himself — and that's everything we've ever been devoted to. If people think of Kiss as performers first and musicians or anything else later, that's wonderful. It's the most boring thing to be known as a musician, because those guys eventually wind up playing Holiday Inns."
The band has built a brand that is known throughout the world and still, to this day, pumps out new merchandise - oven mitts, diaper bags, grill covers, ornaments, garden gnomes (that's pretty funny)...even reality television shows. Incredible.

So what are we doing, as HR pros and leaders to build our brand? How do you describe what you do? Do you have an elevator speech that you've perfected or do you have a statement that paints a picture and creates an emotional connection for others? Which do you think is more powerful? I spent time this week with a job coach and she's encouraged me to rethink how I answer the question, "what do you do?". I'm working on it now and I'll share when I'm ready to go public. 

Keep in mind though, what you do should not be tied to your employer or who writes your paycheck. Our brand belongs to us and we should take it with us wherever we may go. Our surroundings and circumstances might change, but our brand should define who we are, how we operate, how we treat others and what makes us tick.

Engage Your Core
When Kiss first started out, they wore make up and had these outrageous stage personas. I still remember, as a kid, wondering what they looked like without the make up. The whole world, in fact, was wondering the same thing. Who were these guys? As their popularity began to fade a bit, they made the decision to shock the world and take the make up off. Ten years after they got started, they released "Lick it Up" and appeared on MTV without their make up. Big news. They were back in business. Here we are now almost 30 years later and they're still touring, with their make up. Looking around the concert the other night, the vast majority of the audience was at least 40 years old. Kiss knows who their core is and they know who's going to pay money to see them, especially with make up. Everything old is new again!

So, who is your core? I'm a big believer in the notion of opinion leaders. Opinion leaders are not necessarily peer leaders (although they can be) and not necessarily thought leaders (although they might be), but rather individuals in a given group who are true change agents  by way of the fact that their opinions carry significant weight and influence on others around them. As an HR pro, I am very intentional about seeking out and spending time with opinion leaders within a work group when there's a significant change event happening. You get the buy in from the opinion leaders and you've nearly won the battle.

So there you have it. A funny photo, a concert review and three lessons from the greatest rock band ever. 

Rock on!


Monday, August 13, 2012

Motivational Message - Explore. Dream. Discover.


I put this index card in my wallet about ten years ago. I was at a point in my life (one of many) where I had some big decisions to make and I came across this quote, stuck on the refrigerator at a friend's house. Man, those words just reached out and grabbed a hold of me and never really let go. I keep this quote in my wallet and pull it out from time to time when I'm mulling over some decision or just want to think back to that time in my life and bring up some great memories.

I think my handwriting is pretty good, but in case you can't read the quote, here's what it says...
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."     
- Mark Twain
I just really dig this quote. For the most part, it's really a call to action  - "throw off...", "sail away...", "catch the trade winds..." But what I'm most taken by is the first sentence. It's really about regret. Can you imagine the feeling of looking back on your life and thinking about the "what ifs" and the "If I had only done..."?  I guess you could say that Mark Twain had this YOLO thing down before YOLO was cool

So I'm going through one of those phases now and I pulled this quote out of my wallet again to chew on it a bit. Works for me. May not work for you.

Hit me in the comments. What works for you? Any quotes or nuggets of wisdom you want to share? I'm always looking for new, great quotes.