Posts Tagged ‘performance’

What percentage of people’s potential do you see at work?

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching principles

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What percentage of people's potential do you see at work?I have asked this question dozens of times at seminars and training courses and have yet to get an answer of 100% or even close.  Most responses come in the 30% – 60% range suggesting that there’s a lot of ability out there that remains untapped. That’s a pretty strong business case for having effective coaching at work I would suggest. After all, you pay for 100% potential, but how much do you actually get?

But how do people even form a view? On what do we base our estimates? Asked to justify their answer people will point to a variety of explanations. I remember one lady telling me about a member of her team who was difficult and unpopular at work yet who achieved great results as a youth volunteer in his spare time. On another occasion somebody highlighted the many working mums tucked out of sight in mundane roles despite being able to run a household, raise children and run the family finances at the same time. What if work was organised in such a way as to give people a chance to let these hidden talents shine through?

Often the answer is ‘I’ve absolutely no idea what percentage of people’s potential we see at work!‘. We can fairly easily see the results or outcomes of using potential by way of the amount or quality of a person’s work; their performance in other words. But judging how much of their potential was used to bring this about is difficult, time consuming and arguably unnecessary. Unless we want performance and results to improve of course, in which case it’s vital to understand how much capacity for improvement there might be.

I believe there is a compelling case for organisations to spend more time considering potential. Businesses obsess over performance and results and rightly so as this is how we determine how well we’re doing, but in terms of making changes and improving things we need to start thinking in terms of potential; what we could do, just as much as what we have done.

Unfortunately the world of work is not organised this way. It is hard to make a case for retaining an employee who is under performing but whom we sense could go on to great things. Employers understandably hedge their bets and seek to buy proven potential directly from the labour market. Top jobs are to be filled only by those on the graduate development programme. External candidates must have the ‘right’ MBA and so on. But just as with the stock market, past performance is no guarantee of future results. What people have done is not necessarily linked to what they could do. Nevertheless, we can’t employ people based on a leap of faith or retain poor performers on the basis of benefit of the doubt, but we do need to manage them in such a way as to give them every chance to let their potential come out.

Potential is by definition latent – i.e. hidden or under-developed – and so we cannot ask prospective employees to bring a sort of ‘certificate of potential’ with them to the recruitment or promotion interview. We have, instead, to take a view on how much potential a person may have and this view is likely to be informed by our own beliefs and values and by our own experience at work.

More on this next time.

The magic triangle

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching principles

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Coaching Skills Series

This is one of many articles I intend to post this year considering the range of principles, skills and experiences you’ll need to be an effective coaching manager for the people in your team.

This post is about three crucial factors in motivation. Next time we’ll look at the things that prevent people from working to their potential.

Performance, Learning and Enjoyment

Performance, Learning and Enjoyment – The Magic Triangle

Performance, Learning and Enjoyment – The Magic Triangle

I want to return to a subject dear to the heart of any people manager: motivation. Only this time I want to consider how a knowledge of motivation can become a guiding principle for effective coaches.

In previous posts I’ve set out a range of both external and internal motivators and the various theories that can help us provide a climate in which motivation can flourish. We know that the internal group tends to motivate over the longer term but that organizations spend more time fretting over the external set. This irony is extended when we consider how much more costly the external set are to provide. As coaches we have much more power to work with the internal set as these are felt or experienced by the employee whereas the external set are provided by the organisation and probably beyond our sphere of control.


There are internal motivators like pride, satisfaction, accomplishment, sense of achievement and so on which I like to group together as being matters of performance. There are then internal motivators such as curiosity, acquiring new skills, moving outside of comfort zones and trying new things. These we can group as being matters of learning. Finally we can consider internal motivators such as fun, finding work pleasant and enjoying the company of our colleagues as being matters of enjoyment. Thus the wide variety of internal motivators can be made easier to work with by being summarized as performance, learning and enjoyment (PLE) and I like to show them arranged on a triangle as above.


The real trick here is to use coaching to keep a healthy balance of the three. Any one of the three which is over-stressed at the expense of the others leads to demotivation. Most people experience this when performance becomes all consuming. They have targets and standards and key performance indicators fired at them constantly and any sense of learning and enjoyment disappears. Doing a good job and hitting targets – performing – is highly motivating, but not without learning and enjoyment as well. I see this as all too common and have a theory that people join organizations on the expectation of PLE in balance and leave because learning and enjoyment disappears.


It is also possible to create an over balance by having too much learning. Becoming more skilled, learning new technology and trying new things is great, but not if we never get a chance to put what we learn into practice or if the working atmosphere is so sour that we’re still just a miserable as before. Believe it or not you can also upset internal motivation by having too much enjoyment. Of course it’s great to work in a nice, fun atmosphere, but not if we’re given meaningless tasks and nothing ever changes.


I will always maintain that coaching at work is about performance improvement, but what makes it so more effective than other development approaches is that it is hugely insightful for the person being coached and – when done well – is a highly enjoyable process.


Coaching’s aims and intentions are at the dead centre of the PLE triangle.