Performance vs. Potential Matrix

How to determine and assess future leaders, and where and how to focus your efforts in their development.

You are looking to develop future leaders for your business. How can you do this so that you can consistently evaluate them across the board? What is more important when you evaluate them – their past performance or their future potential? It isn’t an either/or question. You need to understand both their past performance, and to identify their future potential. This is where the Performance/Potential Matrix comes to hand.

Performance/Potential Matrix Overview

This consists of a 3×3 matrix contrasting the two elements:

  • Performance – this is the extent to which the person achieved their objectives (“the What”) and the extent to which they demonstrated the appropriate leadership behaviors. (“the How”).
  • Potential – this is a person’s capacity to be a top performer in a more senior role.

By assessing where an individual sits on each of these two axes you are able to determine two factors:

  • Where they currently sit as you and/or others perceive each individual;
  • With whom to focus your efforts and where (performance and/or potential)

An example of how each of the 9 grids can be labelled is shown below. In doing this the matrix provides a simple and effective tool by which to calibrate criteria and expectations, and acts as a diagnostic tool for development. As such its real value is in being a catalyst for robust dialogue and it facilitates shared ownership rather than one person’s opinion.

Headings

  • Red Headings – people in these grids are likely not to be retained
  • Grey Headings – these people are unlikely to progress futher, but given their level of performance may be best suited in develping further in their existing field
  • Yellow Headings – these people may develop further, but need attention and resources to help them develop. If they do not develop further, or sufficiently, they may slip into a red or grey box.
  • Green Headings – people with real potential who should be in the firs tier for leadership development.

Common Pitfalls to Using the Performance-Potential Matrix

  • Misunderstanding high-potentials – there are misconceptions about the term “high- potential.” People use the term to talk about all top talent, as opposed to talent with the potential to become leaders. It can be difficult for managers to assess “promotability”. Often most managers are subconsciously thinking, ‘Do they remind me of me?’ “
  • Using the tool for individual assessment. – the matrix is not designed for individual assessment, you need to be able to compare different people. Without comparison, it enables neither valid assessment nor career decisions about an individual.
  • Expecting too much. – the matrix is only one tool. You need to ensure that you use other mechanism with more data e.g. 360-degree reviews.
  • Using quotas for each box don’t try to allocate people by quote, you need to reach a common understanding and agreement where each person should be realistically placed.
  • Failing to include change management – when using it you need to engage peope so they understand it and buy-in to the approach and understand what the benefits are for employees and the organization.
  • Overcomplicating the process – don’t try to make the matrix more complex, the effort will usually not add significant insight or value.
  • Failing to differentiate between employees – once you have identified the stars and top performers, you need to direct resources towards developing them—higher salaries, plum work assignments, mentorships with executives, exceptional training opportunities and coveted job rotations—to retain them and develop their talent.

Benefits of the Performance-Potential Matrix

  • It allows managers to use the matrix to assess their people and calibrate them between the leaders.
  • Assists in the creation of meaningful, accountable development plans.
  • Allows you to aggregate relative comparisons between talent.
  • Stimulates discussion and constructive debate, and creating a shared and common understanding.
  • The accuracy of assessing performance and potential improves with multiple perspectives. Managers often have blind spots with their own employees, and are

unaware of how they are perceived by others. These discussions can help shine a light on superstars and poor performers.

  • Creates collective responsibility for the team in building a stronger organization. It encourages everyone to be candid, to listen to each other, and to develop each other’s employees.
  • It uncovers both individual and organizational strengths and weaknesses. As such the matrix serves as a needs assessment for development actions that need to be taken
  • Helps managers and leaders to assess potential which they normally struggle to do.

Next Steps

Work with your peers and use this tool to review your employees to identify your prospective leaders. Try looking at the people by yourself, then share your ideas, insights and reasonings with your peers to create insights, ideas and a common perspective. Use this to stimulate debate, and look to use other tools and means by which to identify the prospective leaders.

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Share your thoughts and ideas here, or email me at andrew.cooke@business-gps.com.au

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Click here to find out more about Andrew Cooke and Growth & Profit Solutions.

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