For many employees appraisal is seen as an ineffective, routine activity. At best it may be a functional or process driven review. At worst, a pointless box-ticking exercise. Some appraisals may be critical, some may be positive, but how many get around to discussing potential? If you allow this to happen in your employees appraisal activity, it means all concerned may miss out on the real benefits of any performance review process.

This article is part of the series on How to Motivate Employees to PERFORM. Knowing how to motivate employees to perform is one of the most important aspects of a manager’s job. As important though, is the need to manage the factors that contribute to that motivation, and to create the conditions for people to perform and realise their potential.

Potential is the first factor in the PERFORM model, and for a good reason! Learning how to motivate employees begins with helping people to reach their potential. If we are to find ways to raise performance to higher levels, then we need to find ways of turning potential into performance. To do this we need to overcome two key issues. Firstly, not seeing the potential in front of us. Secondly, and perhaps worse in relation to motivation, seeing potential but not allowing it to be realized.


Employees appraisal processes are not just about improving on weaknesses, or monitoring progress towards targets. Appraisal should be about ensuring we have a positive attitude towards developing potential in our people.

This involves two things. Firstly, make sure you give staff the chance to think about and express what they want from their career development. Secondly, watch out for potential in your staff that needs to be encouraged, or even where they themselves can’t yet see it. Motivating employees to perform must begin with helping them to both identify and realize their potential.

Revealing Potential

Where do you look for potential? Potential usually indicates that there are dormant or untapped qualities which, if realized, can have a significant impact for the individual and the organisation. Here are some suggestions for how to look for potential in your colleagues. Encourage them to see their own potential by:

  • Recognising what is already done well: Often the seeds of potential can be evident in what is already being achieved. So encourage employees to think about what they have already done. Then ask them to consider what they might like to do more of. Being positive, supportive and creative in this process will bring results
  • Trying something new: They may also be possibilities in trying out things we haven’t done. Change or variation at work should be seen as an opportunity to grow, not necessarily as something to be avoided. It’s especially important to think about this if people lack confidence in their abilities or potential
  • Expecting the best from employees: Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe proposed what might be considered a fundamental principle of performance management: “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being.”
  • Asking employees for their ideas: In preparation for employees appraisal meetings, ask them to think about where they can contribute best.
  • Listening to others: Often other people in the organisation may see potential in their colleagues that both you and the employee may have missed.

In the busyness of the day job it’s understandable that employees appraisal activity may become ineffective. Perhaps just another task to be done or some forms to be completed and dutifully filed for another year.

However, if you really want to motivate employees to perform, never overlook the importance of potential. Both in what people currently do, and in what they might be able to do in the future.

Helping people to develop and achieve (something significant) is the real purpose of an employee performance review. Performance management is not just about realizing results, it’s about realizing potential. Surely that’s how to motivate employees.

After all, as Henry Ford once observed:

“There is no man (or woman) living who isn’t capable of doing
more than he thinks he can do.”

This series on performance management continues in our next blog.

Adopted from

The Happy Manager  (

A website owned by Apex Leadership Ltd.