Ensure Employees Reach Their Full Potential

Potential is a huge motivator for most employees. It also ranks high in importance in workplace culture. That’s why it’s important to pay attention – because when your people are able to realize their full potential, so will your organization.


A Gallup poll of millennials found that almost 90% of employees valued opportunities to grow and develop their careers. Yet when asked, fewer than 40% of the same population believed they had “learned something new” in the past 30 days.

Similarly, research revealed a significant difference in perception among employees at average organizations versus Top Workplaces.

When asked to respond to a survey statement about realizing potential, “This company enables me to work at my full potential,” only 56% of employees at average organizations responded positively. But it seems employees at Top Workplaces feel more empowered to reach their potential. At these award-winning companies, the number jumped to 77%. And in the top decile of Top Workplaces, scores reached as high as 90%.

So here’s our advice on how to enable employees to reach their full potential:

  1. Encourage managers to engage in one-on-one conversations around potential and how to help team members reach theirs.
  2. Allow employees to stretch their wings with challenging work assignments.
  3. Show employees career paths that help them to find future opportunities and then work toward them.
  4. Support continuous learning and individual development plans.
  5. Get rid of red tape that prevents employees from being effective.

How do you know what progress toward potential sounds like? Something like this: “I feel empowered to try new ways and even to fail in the process. Our leadership team believes in letting people show and exercise their full potential. The rest is up to me.”

Barriers can get in the way of employees realizing their potential. When they can’t work at their full potential, employees may feel stuck or unrecognized. And that makes employees more likely to start a job search.

  • Employees who don’t have opportunities to work outside of their typical day-to-day roles, which can make them feel stifled.
  • Placing a narrow focus on employees who’ve been identified as “high potentials.” This can limit the organization as a whole.
  • Employees who have given up trying to “fight the system” and now fall back into accepting poor policies and processes.

Bob Helbig is a media partnerships director at Energage, a Philadelphia-based research and consulting firm that surveyed more than 2 million employees at more than 7,000 organizations in 2019. Energage is The Washington Post’s research partner for Top Workplaces.

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