Why The Seduction of Potential Will Destroy Your Team, Lose More Sales and Threaten Your Sanity

Deciding who to hire, who to let go, and when it’s the right time to do so is a daunting and time consuming struggle for managers. Are you running your business by the elusive and costly potential you see in others or by measurable evidence of progress and results? Here’s how to avoid the hypnotic seduction of people’s potential and how to shift from measuring potential to productivity. (Including your customers.)

Two areas where managers consistently struggle are in the hiring and firing of their employees. When it comes to making the right decision about their employees, the questions I’m asked most are:

  1. “I’m not getting the production I need from my team, even when I continually push them.”
  2. How do you turn an underperformer into a top producer or at least into an average, acceptable producer?”
  3. “When does it make sense to invest your time, money and resources into someone who you feel you can help improve their performance?”
  4. “How can I determine, based on a defined set of criteria, benchmarks and measurable steps, when to (with great certainty) cut the proverbial bait and let someone go?”

These are the most common questions, challenges and headaches among managers and business owners that plague their mind when it comes to that questionable player on your team.

Tripping Over the Potential of Frustrating Superstars

Here’s a profound and valuable story that any business owner, manager or sales management team would want to hear about, especially as it relates to hiring, training and building a top performing team.

It was during the management workshop I was delivering on the first day of this week long conference. Someone asked a question regarding how to handle an underperformer. As this manager was sharing in great detail the challenge she was having with a salesperson she hired several months ago, I noticed an interesting reaction from the audience. I glanced out at a sea of people, their heads nodding up and down in agreement; as if she was sharing not just her story, but everyone’s story.

She talked of an experience that practically every manager and business owner in the room was able to relate to; an all too common tale of a new, promising hire with incredible potential.

The story continued about the candidate with a wonderful resume, great background, stellar references and a seemingly positive attitude and disposition. A candidate who was given the opportunity to work with her, who she felt had the potential to live up to her expectations, and whose experience seemed to be a perfect complement to this new position she was looking to fill.

I listened intently to her as she described this experience. Her once positive level of exuberance, her hopes and dreams evaporated, as she painfully explained how this promising young superstar became one of her biggest disappointments. And it wasn’t like she just called it quits after a few weeks and fired this person. She invested her precious time trying to turn them around. The more she invested her time in supporting and training this person, the more her expectations were shattered.

Your Greatest Sales Nemesis

This manager was stuck. She didn’t know what to do. At this point, this new hire was now costing her money, time, selling opportunities and resources every day this person stayed on her team. She completed her story, sounding as drained as if she and the rest of the audience were reliving their personal staffing nightmares all over again; touching what seemed to be an eternal wound that would not heal. What sounded like a desperate cry for help, she concluded, “Keith, what should I do?”

The room was silent. Every manager and business owner in that room were gripping the edge of their seats, waiting, looking for and anticipating a magnificent solution to this common and painful dilemma. What was this magic formula that I was going to impart which would forever change the landscape of business by ending this ongoing epidemic and enable every manager to maximize the performance of their team and each player?

My response: “Do not be seduced by the ether of potential.”

Blank stares.

I knew I was on to something. I heard each person in the audience thinking.

The Ether of Potential

We are often seduced by the potential that we believe we see in others. We see potential in the people, employees, customers and prospects. We see the untapped potential in the people we have a vested interest in. Our children, spouse, co-worker, partner, boss, customer and of course, in our team. We see potential in new hires, as well as the untapped potential in the veterans on your team.

We believe that sometimes, if we wait, if we’re patient, if we give them just a little more time, a few more resources, better training, they can finally live their potential. We believe our employee when they tell us, “Just give me a few more weeks. I’m about to close in on two big sales. Yes, I know my performance has slipped, but as I told you, those personal problems that have been distracting me are no longer there.”

We get hung up on potential experiences and past defining moments

Your Competition Thanks You For Your Help

We think, “Okay, if they really could turn their attitude and performance around, that would make my life so much easier. After all, it sure beats the painful, and time consuming process of having to recruit and onboard someone new, let alone having to figure out how to cover a territory with no salesperson!”

This belief is counter intuitive. Ironically, it costs you more to keep someone like this on your team. More time, more lost sales, more lost opportunities, more internal problems and less time for you to focus on growing your business and on the people who are performing, who want to grow and who demonstrate that in their actions, commitments and behavior. These are the people who make you look great, who are coachable and who want to truly live their potential. These are the salespeople you need to identify on your team to ensure you have the right people to develop a unified team of champions.

But If They Just!!!

And that’s when it happens. The seduction begins. The ether of potential seeps into your veins. We start believing this can really happen. Its seductive forces blind you to the facts. Now, you begin making decisions based on your emotions and unrealistic scenarios, rather than on the facts and what’s best for you, the company as well as the person in question.

The seduction of potential clouds your best judgment. If you’re looking for evidence, then just glance over at the people on your team today. Think about the people who you have hired in the past who did not work out. How many people can you think of who you hired, that, in your heart, you knew there was something telling you that they weren’t the right fit? Call it your gut reaction or intuition.

Making business decisions based on potential is another example of practicing the law of stupidity. That is, continuing to do more of the things that don’t work.

The Hard Cost of Complacency

How many times have you been in a situation with an underperforming employee where every week that goes by you tell yourself, “Just one more week. They’ll turn it around. I know they can do it. If they just follow the program. Just let them get through this next project. I hope they bring in some new business soon.” (A.K.A. Mother Teresa Syndrome. “I can save them. And I will sacrifice everything in order to do so!”) “Wait and see” is not a contingency plan and hope is not a coaching strategy.

We often hire people based on their past performance or potential rather than on what they have truly and measurably achieved, and if they’re the right fit for your company and culture. As such, we try to pull out, exploit and develop the potential we see in them. After all, the goal of management is to make your people more valuable. The key here is making sure you are investing your time in making the right people more valuable. Otherwise, it’s a time consuming and exhausting exercise in futility.

You Can’t Care More About The Other Person’s Career Than They Do

I too, fell victim to this philosophy in my younger years as a manager and business owner, thinking we can turn everyone’s behavior around and actually ‘change’ people (without their consent.) As I mentioned, there’s a big difference between being a manager and being Mother Teresa.

Your internal dialogue then continues as you struggle to come up with the right decision,

  • “If they stay, maybe they will turn it around!”
  • “If I fire them, then what do I do? I have to start the recruiting and training process all over again.”
  • “What if those deals in their pipeline actually wind up closing next quarter?”
  • “What if I fire them, they go to work for the competition and they become a superstar?”

“Lets just wait and see what happens tomorrow.”

You Can’t Build a Business On Potential

There is no potential in terms of how we define it or embrace it in our lives. The way we use potential is more of a smokescreen, a diversionary tactic, a justification for our behavior and performance, for doing something we want to do or an excuse not to take certain actions.

You don’t hire someone based on their potential.

Here’s a more vivid and beneficial definition of potential. Potential is based on something that you have not seen yet nor have evidence to support. Conversely, it could also be someone you know who has performed, yet has been struggling with hitting their goals over a considerable period of time, say a month or so. Potential resides in the future as a possibility rather than a certainty.

Besides, if you are attempting to make a hiring decision based on someone’s potential, and the candidate hasn’t been living their potential by the time you have met them, then what makes you think they are going to start living it when you hire them? Are you now being seduced by your own potential?

Either people strive to live their potential each day through evidence of positive change, or they’re not. It’s that simple. You may also want to check on the tools, resources, training and coaching that you have provided them.

Besides, if you don’t know whether or not you have made the right hiring decision within 30-60 days of hiring them, then you are in deep trouble. Thinking that if you give them one more chance, more time, and more training is the answer, it is not. This is the perpetual lie you tell yourself, a justification.

Eventually, the pain of keeping that person around will become so evident that they either quit or get fired. Now, the manager has surrendered all of their power to act by choice and instead, puts themselves in a state of reaction, stress and urgency.

If you or your staff are not currently using the talents and gifts you have every day, then you are not living your potential. It’s not that you cannot improve. The difference between lifelong improvement and building a world-class, collaborative team of self-motivated people, and working off potential is this. With potential, you’re attempting to see something that you have not seen nor have evidence of over a defined period of time. With lifelong improvement, you’re noticing positive change through ongoing coaching and development. You have measurable evidence of growth and greater success.

Collapsing Potential with Possibility and Certainty

What’s missing for managers is certainty. It’s the uncertainty, the unknown, the fear that paralyzes every manager when having to make a decision whether or not to terminate someone or invest the time in turning them around. Managers rely more on their gut than on the facts.

Having the certainty and confidence in your people, supported by evidence is a healthier, more productive model when creating new possibilities based on authentic, human potential. The certainty is created through exceptional, consistent coaching. Once you have a structured, coaching program that holds someone accountable on a daily and weekly basis, while continuing to better their best, you no longer have to make the decision to keep them or terminate them. Now, your underperformer in question will make that decision for you, based on the defined set of criteria and measurable actions steps they need to take to demonstrate their commitment to their position and to dramatically improving their performance.

You can’t want more for others than they want for themselves. This is a sure sign of the manager coaching in their own image. (“But if they just….. they can be so much more successful!”)

The Honeymoon

If you are responsible for hiring, developing and managing a team, what process do you have from the time you hire someone and over their first 30, 60, 90 even 120 days in their new position? What would having a 30-60 or 90 Day program for every new hire based on measurable productivity steps do for you and for your team? Wouldn’t this simplify your life dramatically?

Now that you have a proven process documented, either the new hire is sticking by the program, or they are not. Now, there’s no room for you to be seduced by the potential of possibility. There’s no ‘probation’ or waiting for the year end performance appraisals. The person is either demonstrating evidence of positive change and growth, and are honoring their commitments, or their not. In essence, they’re the ones who continue to hire or fire themselves through their own process of self-selection.

Besides, when it comes to new hires, during the first few months is the honeymoon period. And if they’re not on their best behavior during this period, what do you think will happen in the future?

Certainty Drives Results

When you create certainty, through measurable, specific competencies, activities, results, sales strategies, quality of activities, and key performance indicators, there’s no more guesswork. No more, “What if’s.” No more stressing over what you perceive you can and can’t control or being frustrated because your process doesn’t work. Remove the doubt and replace it with certainty, peace of mind and the confidence in knowing that the process will assess and then produce super-achievers.

Now you can run your business or your team with greater efficiency. Once in place, you’ll be able to get back to doing what you were meant to do in the first place; making the right people more valuable.