Developing Employee Potential

What hidden talents and abilities do your employees have that can benefit your shop?

I remember the '72-'73 school year of my high school experience clearly. I was a junior living in a suburb of Memphis, Tenn. One of my teachers, Mr. Zeke Andre, came to me and said: "Mr. Fewell, I need a president for the Key Club. You are going to be my president." Since I had a relatively poor self-image, great fear and trepidation came upon me. I told him there was no way I was going to be president of the Key Club. At that point in my life I was a shy kid, had very few friends, was certainly not popular, did not play sports, but I did play in the band. In Sunday school, when there was an assignment to quote a verse or two, I got sick and stayed home.

I knew that as the president of the Key Club I had to hold meetings, make speeches, hold fund-raising events, talk to parents, talk to students and promote the values of the club. There was no way I was going to be involved in that.

Andre assured me that I could do a wonderful job and that he would help me. So for the last two years of high school, I was the president of the Key club. Andre saw something in me that I didn't know existed: He saw my potential. I sincerely believe that this is one of the key events in my life that helped me become who I am today.

Can this be done successfully in the world of business? I am convinced that it can but a certain attitude toward development is required. In this article, I would like to share the fundamental concepts and principles my teacher used that are required to be successful in developing employee potential.

First, let's agree on the definition of potential. Webster's defines potential as "having capacity for existence, but not yet existing; having force or power; anything that may be possible." Begin by asking yourself a few questions. Do my existing employees have the capacity to do more and be more? Is it possible I have overlooked some hidden talent or ability that one or more of my employees possess?

The simple fact is that you have to make time to look for the potential that currently resides in your employees. In the world of sports, to be successful at finding talent, most sports teams have full-time recruiters. Their primary task in life is to find talent. Most of us in business today are running around with our pants on fire. Whether we are not talented at managing our time and energy or have never learned to manage our time and energy, we find ourselves reacting to things that happen day-to-day instead of proactively managing our activities. The most successful business owners/managers are exemplary at developing and leading their people.

Most owners/managers find themselves extremely busy dealing with all the other demands of their business day, and find little time to develop employees. A large percentage of the businesses I consult with want to hire experience instead of potential. That's a marvelous concept but it rarely happens. When it does happen, I find that most businesses don't do a thorough orientation to clearly set goals and expectations for the position. This is very important to prevent multiple misunderstandings later.

Once you start to look for the potential in your employees, you must expect to find it. My mother often reminded me, "Son, in life, you get what you expect. Be careful what you expect." That was her paraphrased version of the great psychology lesson that says thoughts create actions and actions have consequences.

After you have identified untapped potential in your employees, you must provide them with motive and opportunity. A motive is something that impels or incites a person to a certain course of action. My teacher gave me motives. He incited me; that is, urged me to act, or stirred me up to act simply by his persuasive powers. He had more confidence in me than I had in myself. He caused me to take a new look at myself. I was convinced that with his help, I could be the president of the Key club.

Through that office, he gave me an opportunity to practice the new skills he was teaching me. He provided tools and direction. A football coach provides the game plan, diagrams the plays, allows the team to practice and then critiques the performance. For me, the teacher provided the game plan. He told me exactly what he expected of me on the front end. He gave me the roles and responsibilities of the president of the Key club. He diagrammed the plays. He handed me a Roberts Rules of Order for conducting meetings. He attended the meetings, allowed me to practice and taught me how to improve my performance. He helped me understand how the goals and vision of the Key club could be exercised through fund-raising events and community activities. He taught me how to manage these different projects over the two-year period.

Remember, this was something I had never done before. It was all new to me. It required me to grow. This new opportunity took me completely out of my comfort zone. It was an obvious change for me, but change produces solutions. Change provides challenges and through those challenges, causes personal development.

Are you giving your employees sufficient motives and opportunities to grow?

Consider these statistics that I came across in my reading two years ago: 40 percent of workers in the United States feel disconnected from their employers; 67 percent of workers do not identify with, or feel motivated to pursue, their employer's business goals and objectives; 25 percent of workers are just "showing up to collect a paycheck."

Many people work to fulfill their purpose in life. Through their work, they seek accomplishment, achievement and rewards. The most successful managers and leaders help their employees find purpose and accomplishment through their job. They connect their employees with the company's primary goals and objectives on a continuing basis.

When managers and leaders in business fail to provide their employees with purpose, a plan and measurable results available through the process, not only will their employees not accomplish their potential but also the shop.

Steps to Develop Potential
in Your Employees

Successful business leaders and managers use these steps as guidelines in developing potential in their employees.

  • Identify the possible capacity or potential.

  • Provide motives and opportunities to exploit that potential.

  • Develop a plan of action.

  • Set clear expectations.

  • Provide the tools necessary for the employee to execute the tasks.

  • Allow the employee to practice the new behaviors.

  • Coach and critique the performance.

  • Create a scorecard to measure the results.

  • Connect behaviors with goals and objectives.