The HR Juggler

The Imagination of Potential

Posted on: October 28, 2012

Potential really is everywhere and in everyone. We sometimes have such a narrow perception of what constitutes potential in a work environment and assign individuals to categories or labels such as high potential, leadership potential, management potential…the list can go on and on. Inevitably, the names within these categories can change, and the quality of conversation that accompanies this perceived change of status varies enormously, if indeed the subject is raised at all. It is not always the empowering, motivating experience that it could be.

As an experiment, I asked my six year old daughters what they understood by potential. Thinking about it carefully for a few moments, one of them tentatively replied, “having imagination…?” She then went on to explain that her teacher at school had asked the class what they would like to be famous for, and that she had responded by saying that she’d like to be known for playing badminton really well. My other daughter then chimed in to say that she’d like to be famous for being an author and writing books that other people loved to read. At their age, they see no limits to their possible achievements, only potential for making things happen, which is just as it should be. And perhaps there is a real link between imagination and potential, the ability to see beyond where we are now to where we want to be, the courage to try new things and learn new skills, to follow our hearts and always believe we have more to give and to grow.

Enabling people to explore their potential and bring their whole selves to work, including their aspirations and imaginations, can be truly transformational and create huge loyalty, as demonstrated in this recent article about why employees’ big dreams should be every company’s top priority. We sometimes need to be reminded to have the imagination to see not only our own potential, but most certainly to take the time to listen to how other people perceive theirs. Really listen, without assigning labels or categories.

Potential is everywhere, and in everyone…we just need some imagination to see it. What are your perceptions preventing you from seeing or asking today? I’d love to know.

7 Responses to "The Imagination of Potential"

I wonder how many of us working in HR and training are really using the best possible ways of getting the best from the people we are there to support. One HR manager that I worked with said that she was there to protect the interests of the company, not to ‘look after’ employees. With attitudes like that still prevalent, there is a long way to go!

Hi Graham, thanks for commenting. I agree that HR and businesses as a whole definitely aren’t as good as they/we should be at getting the best out of people. I think the line between supporting employees and protecting the business that we work for is a tricky one…and almost certainly worthy of a blog post in its own right. Thanks for getting me thinking!

[…] said that, the points I wished to raise were covered very eloquently by both David Goddin and Alison Chisnell. I urge you to check out their posts and others in the HR Carnival so ably organised by Sukh […]

While I very much look forward to when my employer takes any interest in my big dreams, I would first welcome the time they get round to appointing someone with HR in their job description. Maybe there’s a piece to be done looking at SMEs that fail to make the most of their staff by treating HR as some kind of optional extra that could be vaguely covered by admin staff.

Hi Hack, thanks for popping by to comment. It’s a good and powerful point that you make and I’m sure is the case in many SMEs. I suspect that much of the employee experience (as in bigger orgs too) is determined by the skills and capability of the individual manager…but it’s tough when that’s not great and there is no one challenging that. Your dreams matter though and I hope at some point you work in an environment where someone takes an interest in them 🙂 x

[…] we can create loyalty in the people working with us and that is only a good thing for businesses. The imagination of potential is a good […]


It’s been a busy week. I have had to work on trains and failed to get round to commenting on this.

I have been ruminating all year about perceived risk, fear of failure and how hard not being myself can be.

Yesterday I ran an all hands team meeting, there were about 15 people at it.

I have taken responsibility for part of our customer service (CS) organisation, another story, subject to an informal statute of limitation!

There is a lot to do to go from being good at it to being great at and ensuring that we can anticipate issues and enable growth without too much pain. There is very little resource dedicated to doing this. Quite a few important things won’t happen for quite a while. That is, unless we unlock the potential in the team.

This is a great place to be! People can take risks in a safe environment. Here’s the deal, all things remaining equal projects x and y won’t happen at all, at least for quite a while. If I allow you and you to have a go, and we support you properly we might get some serious benefit AND you and you will get to learn new things AND best of all the rest of the team will see what can be done in a safe environment. 

Phrase of the week? There is no they!

As ever, thanks for making me think.


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