Performance And Potential

Performance and potential are pretty abstract terms. Have you met that person who could do anything in the world but settled for the bare minimum? On the other end of the spectrum is the person who’s already at his personal ceiling. He’s trying, his wheels are spinning, but he probably won’t go much further.

I’ve been both of those examples at some point in my career. When I was younger, I wasn’t interested in all the opportunities made available to me, and was constantly told that I had potential but wasn’t using it. At another point, I was probably trying way too hard, but had gone as far as I was going to without some mentorship.

Of the two, performance is easier to measure. Most organizations have an evaluation system with specific traits to be graded. The better you know the grading criteria and the job description you’re filling, the easier it is to get high performance marks. At some places, that’s the end of the discussion of your current performance and likely raise associated with it, but what about the future? What about the next raise? What about the next opportunity?

Right now, bosses are sitting at tables with managers and talking about employees. Specifically, they’re talking about who has the potential to go further and try something new, or who to keep exactly where they are. Most organizations would rather move someone up and make a space at the entry level than hire someone from the outside for a larger position. For that reason, bosses and managers are always looking to see who has the potential to do more.

If that’s the case, how do we measure potential if it’s so important?

I know how I do it.

Luckily, my day job allows everyone a chance to do more than just the job title they’re filling. An event needs to be organized, we need a secretary or treasurer for a committee, or we have an administrative requirement that isn’t enough to be a full- time job but it still needs to be done. When I see someone doing the job well and might have potential to do more, I look to see what else he or she is doing.

Make no mistake, how well you do your assigned job is the single most important answer to most questions. If you have the potential to do the job you have better, then I want you to do that first. If you’re already doing that job as well as possible and have potential to do more, then I want that too. Some people want to be on every committee, and they scurry around from one side gig to the next. They’re fundraising, and the secretary, and they’re running the newest program. Do you know what those people aren’t doing? Their jobs.

Maybe someone isn’t gainfully employed and is filling the day with stuff to do. That’s entirely possible, but not usually the case. Even if you get credit for all the other chances to show your potential, it still doesn’t add up to doing the job in front of you well.

Second to that, a positive attitude is usually the next thing I look for. If I have to invest my time and energy to develop someone, I wouldn’t normally pick someone who is negative. I have better things to do with my time than surround myself with negativity. A positive attitude brings opportunity to you, and a negative attitude drives it away. It’s only now, at this writing, that I realize how my negative attitude made things worse over the years.

Once upon a time, in a hospital far away, there were six of us in one office all of the same rank, and it was obvious that we couldn’t stay in the same spot. We all needed opportunity. When they arrived, I was in charge of that office, but after a while, I wasn’t. Later, most of the people around me had chances to do other things and lead in other areas while I stood still. My bad attitude didn’t just hold me back there, but the ripple effects slowed down my whole career. Some of those burned bridges never got rebuilt. I had potential, but my performance wasn’t as good as it could have been, and my attitude drove leaders and opportunity away from me. I could talk at length about this topic, but I’ve committed to be brief so let me wrap this up.

The best indicators of your potential are how well you do your day job, your positive attitude, and how willing you are to grasp the next small opportunity.

I had the potential to be at the top, but my performance didn’t show it for years, and no one was interested until I changed my attitude. Once I figured it out, things went fairly well. Once you figure it out, and I hope you’ll do so a little earlier than I did, then there’s really no stopping you.

That’s how I look for potential, but you don’t work for me. No matter what you do for a living, a positive attitude matters.

– How well are you doing the job you’re being paid for, and do you make it easier for your entire department or group to meet its mission?

– How does your organization look for potential?

Have a great week out there.

– JT

Day Job Final_Web

James Tinker

About James Tinker

James was born and raised in Bangor, and left home at 18 for the Navy. Twenty-five years later, he retired as a Command Master Chief, the highest enlisted rank on a warship in San Diego. His popular blog series, The Day Job, shares personal and professional lessons learned through his career.