Performance Appraisals Don’t Tell the Whole Story
By Steve Schumacher
In these days of tighter budgets, fewer employees and working managers, it is imperative that you identify who your superstars are and make sure they don’t leave the company. I’ve seen too many high-potential employees (HIPOs) leave companies when they were needed the most. Why? Many reasons, but one of the main ones is that they went the extra mile but were never told how valuable they were. Before you can set up a process for developing those HIPOs, you must first identify who they are.
The following are some key behaviors to look for:
1. Their performance is better than everyone else.
This is the common ingredient, and the basic element, of HIPOs. Whatever the key metrics of performance are, they exceed them consistently. HIPOs always have great performance, but great performers are not always HIPOs.
2. Work is done on time or early.
When given assignments or projects, HIPOs get them done well ahead of what you expect. They regularly live up to the axiom “under-promise and over-deliver.”
3. They seek more responsibility.
Even when the workload is heavy, HIPOs seek out even more to do. They thrive on the challenge of getting more and more accomplished. They don’t see it as a way to score points with the boss, they see it as a way to learn and grow.
4. They seek feedback and respond to it well.
HIPOs are always asking how they are doing. They ask for feedback from the boss, customers and co-workers. They don’t justify or rationalize the feedback they receive, they say “thank you” and incorporate the feedback into their work.
5. They give feedback tactfully. HIPOs don’t hesitate in giving feedback to others.
They do it in a timely, constructive and tactful manner. No bullying here; just open, honest feedback that is designed to help others improve.
6. Present problems with solutions.
Certainly, HIPOs are quick to point out problems that are occurring or may occur. Many people will leave it at that. Not HIPOs. They present possible solutions to the problems, as well. They see obstacles as things to be overcome, not reasons to give up.
7. Early problem identification.
If a HIPO reports to you, they will identify potential problems early and let you know about them. They don’t wait until the project blows up to point out how it should have been done after the fact. They use worst case scenarios to weed out potential problems before projects even start.
8. Others speak highly of them.
When you ask others about HIPOs, they always speak in glowing terms. They are seen as team players with great technical and interpersonal skills. They don’t throw others under the bus.
9. We vs. I. When you speak to a HIPO, you hear them using the word “we” instead of the word “I” quite often.
They are quick to share the glory for a job well done. They see themselves as a part of a big picture and they speak that way.
10. Not a clock-watcher.
HIPOs spend whatever time is necessary to get the job done. Whether that means coming in early or staying late, they do it. For HIPOs, there are 168 hours in a week to get a job done, not 40.
11. Good presentations.
HIPOs tend to be good stand-up presenters. They have taken the time to learn to be credible in front of groups. When they speak, people listen. They don’t overwhelm the audience with meaningless data. They get right to the point and sit down.
12. Always learning. HIPOs are constantly looking for ways to learn new skills.
They take courses, attend seminars and workshops, read relevant articles, and participate in industry associations. They seek out coaches and mentors who can guide them and teach them new things.
13. Learn from mistakes. You won’t find HIPOs making the same mistake over and over.
They are human, so they will screw up. The difference between them and average employees is they accept the mistake, identify how they can do it better next time, and move on. They don’t hang onto past failures; they look forward to future successes.
14. Integrity and ethics. HIPOs are incredibly honest and ethical.
They know that they have to look themselves in the mirror every day. They know that lying, cheating and playing politics won’t make that picture in the mirror one they like.
Your high-potential employees are the ones that produce 80 percent of your outstanding results. They are driven primarily by internal gratification, not fancy rewards. When you start looking for your HIPOs, start with performance appraisals. The high performers will always be at the top. Then use the other behaviors to identify the ones that you need to put on a track for upward movement.
Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at