At a recent management retreat we discussed high-potential employees and motivation.

Some people believe the two go hand-in-hand. For an employee to be a high potential, they have to be highly motivated. But is that really true?

Motivation is subjective. An employee may think they are motivated but their manager may not. Who sets the standard for motivation?

Even for the best employees, those with the highest potential, motivation can wane throughout a career. Employees have ruts. Leaders have ruts.... If we believe someone is lacking motivation at this point in time, does that mean they aren't a high potential? Does their lack of motivation detract from their natural ability? Their leadership qualities? Their communication skills? Their ability to execute?

Think about it in the inverse. An employee can be highly motivated, but not a high potential. Perhaps their bandwidth is limited. Maybe they just can't grasp the concepts they need to grow. Maybe their EQ (emotional intelligence) is lacking. They try extremely hard, they take feedback and try to adapt, but they just can't quite get it. They are not a high potential. They are not going to take your company to the next level.

The point is, if you only consider employees who are highly motivated as your high potentials, you could be missing out on a population of future producers and leaders. As managers, we gravitate towards people who are motivated. They are fun to be around. They work hard, they typically go above and beyond and do anything that is asked, but motivation and being a high potential are mutually exclusive. You can be one without the other.

Motivation should be one factor when evaluating high potential employees, but not the only factor.

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