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Why Are Companies Bad at Identifying High Performers?

In the realm of high performers, the area of least concern is in identifying high performers. After all, it is usually something that can be measured fairly accurately. If you are a sales organization, the youngest performer who is excelling at sales is your high performer.

Companies forget one basic rule: The skills that make you a high performer in your current role are probably not the skills that will make you successful in an advanced role. In other words, they identify a high performer in the current role, but not the high performer in a future role.

Companies need to do two three things to ensure they are truly identifying high performers.

First, does this person want to be promoted and why? The why becomes key. If they want to be promoted purely for the salary and power, they may not be good managers. After all, managing is about development of others, not personal success. In addition, being promoted most likely requires different skills. What are the skills you've identified as necessary for management and does this person demonstrate them (or at least that they have the ability to learn them).

Second, truly understand the reason for the high performance. If you are looking at two account call center reps and the one with the most calls successfully closed is considered the high performer, you have to look deeper. Did the two people have the same amount of calls, were they of the same difficulty, and were the long-term results the same as the closed call rate? Any of these factors could point out that the high performer had an easier time. NOTE: I call this the 80's Stock Broker effect. There was a time in the 80's where it was almost impossible to lose money. That didn't mean those stockbrokers were better than the ones during the Depression.

Last, consider how the roles and the company will change in the future. The person you identify as the high performer is the one who has the ability to adapt best. If you have a facilitator who is awesome at in-person facilitation, but the future means more virtual facilitation, the individual might have difficulty changing.

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