Lie: People have potential
Truth: People have momentum
Potential is an intangible subjective opinion about someone that is rooted in almost a character trait instead of a tangible behavior or skill. You can't assess the potential of someone because we're all unique, our brains develop differently, we have different interests, we're all at different stages in our lives, etc.
so. to bucket a person into one of two PERMANENT buckets, high-potential or low-potential might be well meaning but is ultimately an unsophisticated way to assess current capabilities and future performance. Worse of all, these labels stick with you for your entire tenure at the organization you are at and it's virtually impossible to change.
Idea here is to reframe the discussion around momentum, which has an analogy back to physics. Momentum is a product of mass and velocity. Two measurable traits, that when you multiply them together, you have a meaningful term that is a vector - so magnitude and direction. Momentum is a term that we all have experienced and is easier to wrap our head around and does not require us to tell the future.
"Potential is a one-sided evaluation. Momentum is an ongoing conversation"
In the idea of performance momentum mass refers to inherent and enduring traits. These things don't really change or if they do, not by much, or not very frequently.
- behavioral tendencies
- core values
- How they prefer to work
- Favorite parts of their job
- Things they get excited about
Then you have velocity. These are demonstrated skills, performance record, credentials. These describe what your responsibilities are, and how well you've done them. They can be used as an indicator of direction, but they can also change - people change the focus of their careers over time.
- Record of performance
- Demonstrated behaviors
- Feedback from peers
- Measurable and coachable areas that that be improved and adjusted over time
These concepts are rooted in something real, that you can take and help shape/coach/assess for the future. We have taken an unusable subjective assessment that is unsophisticated and, with a little bit of effort and data we already have, morph the discussion into something practical and gives us an opportunity to multiply our team's contributions within the organization in a sustainable way - and that are in our direct's control.
Understanding these two areas requires two desecrate lines of questioning and the ability to synthesize them - the point here is there is an ongoing conversation here with your team.
- In your 1:1s ask probing questions over time to understand those behavioral tendencies, core values, and general personal and professional preferences.
- At the same time, over time, through your 1:1s, feedback, coaching, and delegation, build a solid understanding of the existing skills and strengths of your team and overlay with the first part
And most near term, stop thinking about potential, stop talking about potential. Have a more modern, nuanced, sophisticated, and effective discussion around momentum as defined by a person's professional mass and velocity.
Never in my life have I wanted a high mass.
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