Finding the Sweet Spot
During a recent conversation with a high-potential, I listed three organizational opportunities. I began with the one I most wanted done. After briefly explaining the opportunities, I asked if he connected with any. I was hoping he’d jump on the opportunity that most excited me.
Sadly, he didn’t connect with any. To make matters worse he didn’t even mention the opportunity I was most passionate about. It was all I could do not to try convincing him that the thing I wanted done was the thing he should want to get done. But I held my tongue.
Getting the most from high-potentials is not about what you want them to do. It’s about what they want to do. It’s the leader’s job to find the sweet spot that connects an individual’s passion with organizational objectives.
A few days later
A few days later, on a Friday, I had a project that needed a coordinator so I called this same high-potential. Before I finished explaining the project, he crisply listed three things that needed to get done in order to make it happen and said, “I’m in.” I’d found his sweet spot.
Successful leaders find the sweet spot by aligning the passion of high-potentials with organizational objectives.
On another occasion, with another leader, finding the sweet spot required several conversations. We explored opportunities. Identified activities they needed to give up. In addition, we tried and failed at a new initiative. Eventually we discovered a life changing, organizationally sustaining sweet spot.
Finding the sweet spot may take patience and persistence.
Finding the sweet spot is about helping others reach their own goals and achieve their own dreams.
In my opinion, the greatest obstruction to finding another’s sweet spot is imposing our own agenda on others.
How do you help employees or volunteers find their sweet spot?
Thanks Dan for this sweet post,
How do you help employees or volunteers find their sweet spot?
Here is some ideas that come to me:
-Leader should understand his/her employees/volunteers as whole humans, their dreams and needs, and have real interest in them and their lives.
-They should assure continuous expectations clarification and always maintain two ways adjusting course feedback. (as you did 🙂 )
-Also communicate objective evaluations regularly in terms of results needed to be accomplished .The ownership of vision and cause should be shared, and responsibility of making it reality should be shared also! The leader is not the only one responsible for the vision to become reality, we are all responsible.
Sadly, in profit organizations, not many leaders do, especially when top managers think in terms of money and from defending mindset, however money can’t buy heart, and even worse when they need to apply cost controls, and afraid of their people!
Always best to you,
I’m so glad to see you. You packed loads into your comment.
You said a mouth full when you said…”money can’t buy hear.” So true.
Thanks for the good word.
I absolutely agree about finding the sweet spot, Dan, and I think there had to be a balancing understanding that your job as a boss is not to make high potentials fulfilled. It’s to help them develop AND to accomplish the mission. I’ve had clients and team members who just needed the right question to unleash their potential and others who never found anything interesting enough and ultimately moved on.
Thanks for dropping in and sharing an encouraging comment.
I just love finding the right question hits the right person at the right time. You can see the fire ignite.
I’ve a pretty simple question that I hope will find an answer.
How do you define a high-potential?
What is making him/her a high potential?
By the way, I agree with Huda, employees – HP or not- should be considered and envisaged as a whole human, not just as a workforce, work machine or partially creative machine. An organization that can talk, touch the whole person (physical, social, spiritual security and respect) will improve its profitability, its productivity. Otherwise, the organization will never get the best of their employees, because there will be no inner (intrinsic) motivation and employees will try to escape physically or mentally or getting more money, more time, more … to fulfil their feeling of “a compensation is needed”.
Raising the intrinsic motivation is a hard job. I think this is a mix of values and visions. I might forget something as I’m not taking so much time to think. 😉
Thank you by advance to the community to give an answer to my question.
Thanks for your comment and great question.
Here’s how I identify a high potential.
Let me start by saying the individuals I deal with are almost always at the management/leadership level. That may clarify some of the questions being asked.
In the context I work in:
1. A high potential ALREADY buys into organizational values, mission, and vision.
2. A high potential has a record of success.
3. A high potential has abilities/skills not fully being utilized.
4. A high potential is already motivated intrinsically.
5. A high potential is prepared to learn new skills. (Teachable)
6. A high potential is committed to excellence.
7. Most importantly, a high potential wants to matter and when the right opportunity arises, they believe they can make significant contribution.
I’m still learning to deal with high potential people. They are strong, prepared to lead or already leading, and willing to be led.
Hope these ideas are helpful,
Dan – your reply with 7 characteristics of a HP is worthy of a blog post itself. great stuff.
thanks or the suggestions Scott. I think I will.
Had to laugh with the ‘learning to deal with high potential people’, Dan, would that we could have that problem all the time. Great observation though.
You framed the context well, which brings up a question or two around ‘overusing’ or over-depending on a high potential person. The whole, 80% of the work done by 20% of the staff, issue. Maybe there is a f/u discussion on how to keep attuned to not burning out ‘highly potent peeps’. Those be our legacy.
Great point! One of these days we’ll have to talk about it. 🙂
This definition of a high potential is a valuable post in and of itself. And a great checklist for those employees who want to move up to take a look internally and see if there is an area they need to work on to get to the “high potential’ status they desire.
Also love the “dealing with high potential” comment. High potentials *are* strong and its even more important to help develop them and find their sweet spot than any other.
Dont’ get wrong, it’s important for any leader to develop their team, whether they are a high-potential not. but high potentials tend to be more, for lack of a better word, demanding to be part of and contributing than not.
Some time back I wrote about encouraging those who are doing well. If we aren’t careful leaders may spend more time fixing problems than building successes.
Obviously there is a balance.
Thank you Dan.
Yes it’s helpful and clear !
I find volunteer management to be an interesting area. I have worked with volunteers in quite a few American Cancer Society events. In those events, there is quite a clear-cut rationale (usually) for one’s volunteerism: a personal experience with cancer has galvanized the individual to help.
A more interesting “how to get vols to the sweet spot” experience was serving as a project specialist with the Give a Day Get a Disney Day program. It was a time-limited thing — people committed to doing a day of service in exchange for a day at Disney. I had families decline to do it b/c they didn’t want their kids thinking you get something tangible for volunteering. (My viewpoint was that vols so frequently get nothing, that a day at Disney only put a dent in paying them back!). Some of the people who showed up, ostensibly “just for the ticket,” ended up becoming permanet volunteers or getting involved with the activity long term (such as the people who helped out at a race deciding to take up running).
What the Disney example points to, I think, is that people can’t find their sweet spot if they are totally excluded from the environment where it is most likely to be activated (sometimes people exclude themselves; other times they are not given opportunities).
I wrote about how difficult it is for me as a parent to step back and let my kids learn to align their passions with conrete objectives in this week’s blog: http://waytenmom.blogspot.com/2010/10/my-first-stringer.html
Thanks for your comment. You always have story or illustration. 🙂
Although this post wasn’t about recruiting volunteers, I thought your Disney Day example was very useful. Just get them in and perhaps they will get traction. We’ve had some folks give volunteering at a place that feeds homeless people and the next thing you know they are hooked.
Thanks for leaving a link to expand the conversation.
Best to you,
I’m thankful Paula keeps sharing her thoughts and perspective. Read her bio at http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/paula-kiger
Seed moments = prep time or timing is everything.
Admittedly, one would think that a person with high potential would glom (Scotch Gaelic) onto an opportunity in a heartbeat. So, for you Dan, was the timing right? For him/her was the timing right? Was there enough prep time? Did you water enough, fertilize enough and/or provide enough light for that seed to sprout? Was there enough context and clear expectation?
Reading between the lines, perhaps your perception of time frames was not what this person’s perception was. Maybe s/he thought you were just
sharing information not seeking engagement…an update of sorts rather than something you were personally invested in. Another approach might be that the initial interaction was just a couple of ships passing in the night.
Interesting that I latched onto ‘sadly’, ‘make matters worse’ and ‘most passionate’ in your story. Of course that speaks to internal expectations being placed on others…and they didn’t even know it. Soooo, for retrospection, how strongly or clearly did you convey that which you are most passionate about? We may think we are very direct and clear in our own personal investment, yet, if others do not ‘catch the feeling’ how clear are we? Clearly the first was a missed opportunity (retrospection opportunity for you both perhaps) and the second flew (congrats and celebrate)!
Back to planting seeds and maybe we are partially back to 8 Reasons You Are Stuck…you had a sense of urgency, your person did not. You had a vision and focus, not so much with the other person. Was the other person more complacent than expected? Again, perhaps the ships passing or maybe just took longer for the seed to germinate.
BTW, I know it is short hand to say a ‘high potential’ rather than a person with high potential. Most of the time I try to keep the focus on the person rather than call the person the characteristic. Depersonalizing can be a slippery slope to jargon down that path. Just urging a bit of caution and maybe a reminder. Ex…HR: “We have a bunch of low-potentials that need to leave.” MD: “I have a bad liver in room 209 that is going to die.” And in Psych: “S/he’s a schizophrenic, a psycho.” Used ineffectively, it can put up walls and detach.
I shared some reservations about “high potential” too. Partially, from an editorial perspective, my mind asked, “a high potential WHAT?” But I decided maybe this is how everyone speaks in corporate world and I was behind the times. I share this just as an additional piece of constructive feedback.
Your ideas about prep-time are well taken. In the first example, more “water” may be in order. On the other hand, this person told me they prefer working behind the scenes rather than in front. So I tucked that away and waited for a behind the scene’s opportunity.
Having said that, I see real wisdom in your suggestions.
Re: High Potential… with only 300 works I gotta cut something :-). I do see where it may sound a bit manipulative or deeming.
What a great conversation,
I’m thankful Doc keeps sharing his viewpoint and insights. You can learn more about him at: http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/doc
Doc – I think you highlight a very important thing to keep in mind when leading. People are messy. There are timing aspects, personality aspects, goods days & bad days, external influences.
Hi Dan interesting post to say the least and most enlightening comments by the LF Community especially Doc. A couple of things come to mind and I will try not to repeat what has already been mentioned. First off, it is critical to know “your people.” That will make aligning projects with the appropriate skill sets, motivations, wants and desires and passions become a reality. Second it has been my experience that not infrequently folks have un-revealed yearnings waiting to be found and with the right prodding these will invariably rise to the surface. Lastly I have been pleasantly surprised along with the protagonist mind you when an “offered” project is a resounding success pushing efforts beyond expectations elevating someone to a level heretofore never thought attainable creating a zealous staff member who now can dare to “dream.” So as leaders know your people, tap their hidden strengths and challenge them. Another one of my favorite quotes: “those that cannot do it should stop interrupting those of us that ARE doing it.” Peace, AD
As always you bring insight and value to the conversation.
KNOW YOUR PEOPLE! In the context of tapping into potential, you can’t nail it much better.
I get a sense of the danger of acting too quickly and know knowing enough about a person. Should we act too quickly we may close a door that otherwise would have been opened. We could discourage others.
Best to you,
Thanks to Dr. Diaz who regularly adds value. You can learn about him at http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/al-diaz
I can see your point with volunteers. With employees, I am wondering how an organization reaches its goals if people get to buy in only to those things that excite them? What’s the difference between “cherry picking” and “sweet spot”?
I would want team members that are dedicated to the end goal and willing to do whatever it takes to get there! For example, in call centers — some declare, I only want to work the email queue and not take calls. Well, that doesn’t serve the end goal when the email queue heats up.
Help me understand the difference between tapping people’s passion and having them only work on things they are passionate about.
Hi Kate your comments echo exactly what I was trying to get across. We have to continually tap into those “hidden” passions unbeknownst to many keeping the end goals as you put it in mind and not solely rely on letting personal passions dictate strategy. Thanks AD
I’ll respond to the part about doing things we don’t like doing.
The person in the second story frequently does things he doesn’t like because the overall vision drives him. I find that’s how it is with me too. I do things I don’t really enjoy because the big picture gives them meaning.
Also, I’m focusing on those who are already successful but may work well in a new initiative, project, or program. The term “new” in the previous sentence may refer to new to them or new to the organization.
Finally, I’m working from the view point that the high potentials I deal with already buy into organizational values, mission and vision. My job is finding alignment.
All the best,
I’m thankful for Kate’s insights and perspective. You can read about her at: http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/kate-nasser
Kate – you’re right about a person being willing to do whatever it takes to meet the end game. In my opinion, a person with high potential will see that need and jump in on a temporary basis but still recognize where their sweet spot is.
Man, working in a volunteer environment is TOTALLY different than a paid environment. I wonder if there is a post coming up on sweet spot and volunteers…Dan? 😉
I agree that imposiing our agendas is the greatest obstacle on finding others sweet spot. I will share my experience on recently held discussion. We invited key person from industry to sponsor our HR Conference. In the discussion, key people were involved to make the discussion fruitful. In the entire discussion, the main point was missing. We were looking for our immediate benefit overlooking what other person was looking for. What I felt that environment and value creation plaform was missing. The basis of discussion was self centric rather than looking for creation of long term mutually agreed upon agendas. The point is- self centric attitude makes the environment feelingless, passive, and unreal. And what makes the whole process to materialise is nothing but affection, relation and hospitality. I absolutely agree that it needs patience and perseverance to find others sweet spot. So, it needs to sensitize other to realise that he is important and paty is interested to build, create and develop relationship. Here the important factor is realisation and sensitivity.
We can help employees to help their sweet spots by ackowledging their effort, respecting their feelings and showing honor towards them. Often the worst obstruction to find others sweet spot is our ego, arrogance, positional and hierarchial attitude. The best way to remove is to be human and person.
You expanded the context of this discussion to an important point. Finding the sweet spot with those outside the organization.
You remind me a bit of Ron Karr and his book, Lead, Sell, or Get out of the Way. He talks a lot about customer focus.
I think we are always working to move the center of attention toward the customer, new leader or high potential person.
Best to you,
I’m thankful Ajay regularly shares his insights and perspective. You can read about him at: http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/ajay-gupta
Thank you for this post.
I RT this with the #cpchat. As an educator I think this is a key for administrators as well as teachers. Therefore I am curious as to what educators would answer.
Thank you for sharing
Thanks for leaving your first comment on LF. There are some educators who read and contribute to the discussion. Perhaps they will Chime in. Please note that Ajay Gupta is an educator from India.
Thanks for tweeting this post.
Best to you,
You absolutely nailed a key point that ends-up being a miss for many in leadership positions. I would only add one point to your list of identifiers, which would be expanding point #2 to include those that have high potential for success even where not currently demonstrated.
The key as many of your readers point out is not just identifying the high potential, but engaging them and leveraging their potential such that it transforms into productivity. The way to best accomplish this is by mentoring/coaching/discipling said high potentials. If they meet your first premise (alignment with values, vision, mission, etc.), then actively engaging them to uncover their passions will in most cases create the outcome desired by both parties.
So, how do you uncover their passions? ASK, LISTEN, and RESPOND. If their passions (and qualifications) align with a current opportunity, match them with said opportunity. If there is a gap in skill sets, or competencies create a path of progression that all parties can agree to that will close the gap. If there is no current opportunity, plot that progression as well. Hope these thoughts help Dan…
From a newbie to an experienced pro, thanks for taking a few minutes to share your insights.
Thanks for adding to point #2.
I think it’s pretty hard to take someone to another level from a distance. Mentor/coach/disciple are hands on activities. You help us realize that we cannot lift everyone to a new leve…. choose your high potential individuals carefully.
Best to you,
This is an important post. I’ve blogged on similar topics but have yet to come up with anything as succinct and complete as ‘sweet spot’, which really says it all. Figuring out where personal and corporate interest intersect is the key to engagement, performance and talent management.
One more comment on finding the sweet spot – highly motivated employees will be only too happy to help with that!! They probably have it all tapped out, you just need to let them run with it.
It takes time to get to an employees sweet spot. Everyone has got their own inclination, something they are suited for which also benefits the company or organization. Otherwise, it’s like trying to fit a square block into a circle shape.
I agree, but how much is finding the sweet spot a matter of finding the right people?
That’s true, but the “right person” part is hopefully sorted out already since it’s an employee, and hopefully there has been screening done to get to that point.
I forwarded this to my friend Glen Townsend http://ardaich.wordpress.com.
In a previous life he was the first District Manager Best Buy had, he opened up new territories (new states) for Best Buy when they were expanding beyond Minnesota.
He has explained to me on occasion exactly how he found, mentored and inspired these High Potentials by aligning them to the Best Buy mission.
The proof was in the results, he often achieved performance gains at least 30% better than other stores because of his people being inspired to ownership.
I’m not sure which I like more, the post or the entire comments thread so far. There’ve been great points brought up, all going back to balancing the needs of the organziation to develop individuals to their fullest potential within the needs of the organization. As Kate brought up, it is important to best meet the need of the organization, but I agree with Scott in that in the case of “high potentials” who are already aligned with the organization goals and vision, they will step up to the need. But to sustain and devlop someone like this, its important to feed their find and need to be in “their sweet spot”, contributing to the organization or mission in a way that best meets their skill set and passions. Mike’s point to Ask and Listen, and then respond when a matched opportunity arises is fabulous.
Excellent converation on this one!
Congratulations! This post was selected as one of the five best independent business blog posts of the week in my Three Star Leadership Midweek Review of the Business Blogs.
It’s always an honor. Thanks for all you do.
Too true. So many people forget the basics, but this is the essence of motivation. Aligning the individual with the organization.