This is one of those “If I had $1.00 for every time an
executive told me about a non-performer who has great
potential. . .” topics.
Considering all the time and money a manager invests in
hiring someone, he/she certainly does not want to
terminate an employee before the person has achieved
So instead of cutting losses and moving on, the manager
begins playing the “Potential Game” of waiting, prodding,
and hoping for the employee to meet expectations.
HR CONTRARIAN POINTER: We need to recognize early the
time-wasting trap of trying to “fix” or turn around a poor
Here are some definitions to keep in mind:
*Potential is what we see in the other person.
*Performance is what we expect from the other person.
When potential does match performance, we need to act and
We have had great success in training managers in our
approach to performance improvement and behavior change
that we call Open-Heart Conversations. For a white paper
about our process click on the link below:
However, at some point, whether you use our process or
some other approach, the employee must either meet
expectations or he/she needs to leave.
When we conduct sales training programs, we use a little
story that we heard some years ago called “Riding A Dead
Horse” to drive home the fact to salespeople that at some
point they need to move on to other viable prospects. We
have found that managers make the same mistake as
salespeople when it comes to potential.
Here are the strategies for “Riding a Dead Horse:”
1. Declare “No horse is too dead to ride.”
2. Buy a bigger whip to get the horse moving.
3. Spend more money to increase the horse’s performance.
4. Get a training program to increase your riding ability.
5. Get other people involved to help get the horse moving.
6. Harness together several dead horses to increase speed.
As difficult as it may be, at some point, we need to
declare our “horse” dead and move on, regardless of the
potential we see.