From Worker Bee to High Potential Employee

Each employee is different in regards to intellect, motivation, work ethic, and career aspiration. It comes to no surprise that some employees outperform others. There are the worker bees, who come in every day to do the same job to earn a paycheck. Then there are others who come in every day to take the necessary steps to ascend to the next rung on the corporate ladder.

During the company’s annual performance review period, managers rate their employees on a number scale. The employee rating scale typically ranges from 1 to 5, with the former being the lowest rating and the latter being the highest. Usually, a 1 or 2 rating will place an employee on a probation period or performance improvement program. If there is no improvement, the employee is at risk of losing the position. A 3 rating, which is average, is what most employees will receive. They’re the worker bees, keeping the status quo in check, and does just enough what the job requires, no more, no less. To be honest, it’s not difficult to be average. Just do what the job requires, meet deadlines, and don’t royally mess up. However, 4 and 5 ratings are less common, and only a small percentage of employees will receive them.

While employees with above average ratings will typically receive a higher bonus and raise percentages than those who are rated average, there is more to it. If their high ratings are consistent, they are identified as high potential employees by management. In simple terms, these are the employees who have proven themselves over and over again, and management has taken notice.

High potential employees (aka HiPos) are individuals that employers want to invest in. That means employers are willing to spend resources, usually time and money to train those individuals into leaders, or to enhance their skillset. Employers also see it as a strategy to retain such employees. Pay them well, and provide them with career growth opportunities so that they won’t jump ship. However, this is a double-edged sword as there is a risk the employees may change employers after completing a certain course of training.

So, if high potential employees receive extra consideration regarding leadership training, promotions, skills-related training, and more opportunities to take on new challenges, what about the average worker bees? It’s simple, they aren’t provided the same opportunities to grow. Budget constraints limit training opportunities for all employees, and it makes sense for employers to invest their money in those who will show a high rate of return. Why would an employer send a low performing employee to leadership training if that person is not able to perform the tasks the job calls for?

So what does it take to become a high potential employee? Being good at your job isn’t enough. When I attend leadership and management training sessions, I always see the same people in attendance. How do you convince management that you are an employee worth investing in? Well, there’s no magical formula, but as someone who has been identified as a high potential employee at different employers and has colleagues who are also identified as such, I can share from experience and observations.

Talk to your manager about your career growth and path. This part is critical, and perhaps the easiest first step. You need to have someone be your champion. Talk to your manager to see if you can partake in leadership opportunities or work on challenging projects to prove your worth. If you feel you’re lacking a certain skill or would like to pursue a certification, ask for training support to show that you are willing to learn, willing to improve your skills. Also, it’s important that your manager is willing to help your career growth, and not stifle it. If you’re ever in a position where the manager does not have your best interests in mind, it’s going to be an uphill battle.

Prove your worth. You must produce high-quality work. If your manager is always second-guessing your work, then you have a long way to go. Deliver your work on time and don’t make many mistakes. Show that you can work independently without needing supervision or having your hand held.

Show passion. As simple as it is, you have to show that you are enthusiastic about your job, that you believe in it, and show a high level of energy of doing so.

Be visible. Get to know everyone the best as you can and let them know what you do and how your work contributes to the organization. Dress well, say hello to others, have good office manners, and present confidence. Sitting at your desk all day and not interacting with others places you at a disadvantage. Remember, out of sight, out of mind. Think of it as marketing yourself.

Take initiative. Stepping up to new challenges or sharing ideas that could solve a problem shows you are willing to do more than just what the job entails. This shows forward thinking skills. Is there a certain process that can be improved? Present a solution. Is there a way to cut costs while retaining or improving the current rate of output? Present a solution.

Be a strong individual contributor and a good team player. You need to prove that you can excel independently without much guidance and also be a worthy contributor on a team. Offer help if you have the bandwidth and the know-how.

Prove that you have the capacity to learn. You have to show that you are willing and able to learn. This means you have the ability to grow from learning new skills, and are able to apply them as well.

It doesn’t matter how old you are or how long you have been working, you can become a high potential employee if you’re willing to invest the time and effort into developing your skills and growing your career. Much of the effort has to come from you. No one’s going to come to you and ask if you want to become a high potential employee.  With that said,  future success isn’t guaranteed. It’s not easy to sustain high performance. The possibility of failure or not meeting expectations will always be there. However, since high potential employees have proven to be successful in the past, they are people that management is willing to bet on in becoming future leaders.

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