high potentials vs high performers

High potentials vs high performers: 10 steps for managers to make them reach heights 

As a manager, it is essential to identify individuals who display high potential and high performance in the workplace. Although the terms may sound similar, the two have distinct differences. High performers excel in their current role, while high potentials can grow and succeed in future roles. This blog post will explore the meaning of high potential and high performance, how managers can identify these individuals, and why organizations must invest in their development. We will also examine the impact of Learning and Development (L&D) on high potentials and provide tips on how organizations can adapt their L&D strategies to cater to both groups. Join us as we explore how adapting L&D strategies can lead to realizing employee potential and driving business success.

Understanding High Potential and High Performance

What does High Performance mean?

High employee performance refers to individuals’ ability to achieve exceptional results, meet or exceed goals, and contribute significantly to their organization’s success. It’s about exceeding the standard expectations and consistently delivering outstanding outcomes. It involves initiative, adaptability, collaboration, innovation, and a commitment to continuous learning. High performers are self-motivated, quality-focused, and able to work effectively under pressure. Their actions reflect leadership, ethics, and a strong customer orientation, driving personal and organizational success. 

What is High Potential?

High potential employees, often referred to as “HiPos,” are individuals within an organization who exhibit the capability, attitude, and qualities required to excel in higher-level leadership roles and who have the potential lifelong learning. They display adaptability, learning agility, innovation, and strong communication. They solve problems, collaborate well, and focus on results. HiPos demonstrates strategic thinking, drive for excellence, and empathy. Identifying high potential employees is crucial for succession planning and ensuring a strong pipeline of leaders for the organization. 

High Potentials vs High Performers

High potential employees and high performing employees are valuable assets to an organization, but they possess distinct qualities and serve different purposes. Here are four critical differences between high potentials and high performers:

Focus and Potential:

  • High Performers: These employees consistently excel in their current roles, meeting or exceeding performance expectations. Their focus is on delivering exceptional results within their existing responsibilities.
  • High Potentials: These employees are identified based on their potential to take on higher-level leadership roles in the future. Their focus is on preparing for more complex and strategic positions.
Performance vs. Development:

  • High Performers: These employees are already delivering outstanding results and often require minimal intervention to maintain their high performance.
  • High Potentials: While they might also be performing well in their current roles, the emphasis is on their development for future leadership positions. They often receive special training, mentorship, and opportunities to expand their skills.
Scope of Impact:

  • High Performers: They excel in their current job functions and contribute significantly to their team’s success. Their impact is typically seen in achieving operational and short-term goals.
  • High Potentials: These individuals are identified for their potential to influence the organization’s long-term strategy and success. They are prepared for leadership roles where they will have a broader impact.
Current vs. Future Roles:

  • High Performers: Their excellence lies in their ability to perform exceptionally well in their current roles. Their strengths align with the skills and attributes required for their current job.
  • High Potentials: They exhibit qualities that align with leadership skills necessary for more complex and strategic roles in the future. They may need to develop skills that go beyond their current job requirements.
In summary, high performing employees excel in their existing roles and focus on delivering exceptional results in their current capacities. On the other hand, high potential employees are individuals identified for their potential to take on leadership roles in the future, requiring development and preparation for broader organizational impact. While both are essential for an organization’s success, the strategies for managing and developing them may differ due to their distinct characteristics and goals.

Read this to know about 7 simple and effective strategies for employees professional development!

How can managers identify High Potentials and High Performers?

Distinguishing between high potential vs high performing requires a nuanced approach, as their characteristics and potential contributions can differ. To effectively differentiate between high performing employees and high potential employees, managers should consider a combination of performance reviews, assessments, feedback from colleagues and mentors, and discussions about career aspirations. Keep in mind that some individuals belong to both categories, while others might excel in one aspect more than the other. Tailoring development plans based on these distinctions can maximize the contributions of both groups to the organization. Here’s how a manager can identify each group:

Identifying High Performing Employees:

  • Consistent Excellence: High performers consistently meet or exceed their performance targets. They excel in their current roles and deliver exceptional results.
  • Quality of Work: They produce superior quality work, paying attention to detail and accuracy. Their work sets a standard for excellence.
  • Reliability: High performers are dependable and can be counted on to deliver results without constant supervision consistently.
  • Technical Mastery: They demonstrate a deep understanding of their job functions and possess advanced technical skills related to their roles.
  • Task Orientation: Their focus is on achieving present tasks and responsibilities. They excel in executing the duties assigned to them.
Identifying High Potential Employees:

  • Adaptability: High potentials are willing to take on new challenges and adapt quickly to changing circumstances.
  • Learning Agility: They strongly desire to learn, continuously seek growth opportunities, and quickly acquire new skills and knowledge.
  • Leadership Traits: Even in their current roles, high potentials exhibit leadership qualities such as taking initiative, collaborating effectively, and influencing others.
  • Strategic Thinking: They demonstrate the ability to see the big picture and align their work with broader organizational goals.
  • Innovation: High potentials often develop creative solutions and are willing to challenge the status quo to improve processes or outcomes.
  • Desire for Growth: They express an interest in pursuing career advancement and are open to taking on roles with increasing responsibilities.
  • Empathy and Interpersonal Skills: They show emotional intelligence, understand others’ perspectives, and communicate effectively.
  • Long-Term Perspective: Their career aspirations extend beyond their current roles. They are interested in the bigger picture and their potential impact on the organization.

How can an L&D manager ensure that a high potential employee reaches their potential?

Ensuring that high potential employees reach their full potential requires a thoughtful and strategic approach. Here are several steps a Learning and Development (L&D) manager can take to facilitate the growth and development of high potential employees. 

  1. Identification: Collaborate with the HR team to identify individuals with high potential. Utilize performance data, assessments, and feedback from managers and colleagues to pinpoint employees who demonstrate exceptional abilities and the capacity to take on greater responsibilities.
  2. Individual Development Plans (IDPs): Work closely with each high potential to create customized Individual Development Plans (IDPs). These plans should outline the employee’s career goals, strengths, areas for growth, and specific action steps to achieve their developmental objectives.
  3. Challenging Assignments: Offer high potential opportunities to tackle challenging assignments beyond their current roles. These assignments should encourage them to learn new skills, address complex problems, and showcase their leadership potential.
  4. Learning Opportunities: Provide access to various learning opportunities, including training programs, workshops, and courses. High potentials should have the chance to develop both technical skills relevant to their roles and leadership skills necessary for future advancement.
  5. Mentorship and Coaching: Connect high potentials with experienced mentors or coaches within the organization. These mentors can offer guidance, share insights from their experiences, and provide constructive feedback to help shape the high potential’s development journey.
  6. Role Rotation: Encourage high potential employees to explore different departments or projects through role rotations. This exposure helps them gain a broader understanding of the organization’s operations and challenges, enhancing their adaptability and strategic thinking.
  7. Feedback and Reviews: Establish a regular feedback loop with high potential. Provide ongoing feedback on their progress, performance, and areas for improvement. Formal performance reviews are opportunities for in-depth discussions about their development trajectory.
  8. Leadership Programs: Enroll high potentials in dedicated leadership development programs. These programs focus on building critical leadership skills such as communication, emotional intelligence, decision-making, and strategic planning, preparing them for future leadership roles.
  9. Networking: Facilitate networking opportunities for high potentials. Encourage their participation in industry events, conferences, and networking sessions. These interactions allow them to connect with professionals outside the organization, gain insights into industry trends, and broaden their perspectives.
  10. Succession Planning: Incorporate high potential employees into the organization’s succession planning efforts. Discuss their developmental progress and align their growth with the organization’s long-term leadership needs. This ensures a clear path for their future advancement within the company.


In conclusion, organizations must recognize the distinction between high potential employees and high performing employees. While high performers deliver exceptional results in their current roles, high potentials can excel in more senior positions. Identifying and investing in both categories is crucial for organizational growth and success. Managers play a vital role in realizing the potential of these employees. They should provide opportunities for development, mentoring, and stretch assignments.

Additionally, organizations must adapt their learning and development strategies to cater to high potentials and high performers’ unique needs. Organizations can nurture talent, enhance productivity, and drive innovation by implementing tailored programs. Investing in the growth and development of these individuals benefits the employees themselves and contributes to the organization’s long-term success.

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