Turning Potential Into Performance

BUSINESS icon Giles Cadman August 23, 2022

I believe it is far better to hire for potential than performance. I would rather hire someone with intelligence, ambition, and no experience, than someone with specific knowledge but no passion.

You can teach someone to do their job, but you cannot teach them to be passionate. I have seen this in action time and time again in my company. Some of my best people, who helped shape my businesses, came to me without experience.

Like many people, I was initially dubious about hiring people without experience, but now it is my primary tool for success.

Why You Should Hire Potential

There are many situations when hiring potential is more beneficial than hiring ready made performance.

Pioneering a Business

If you are an entrepreneur pioneering a business, a new market or a start-up, people with huge amounts of experience will probably not want to come and work for you. In this case, it is better to hire people who you think will be amazing but who do not have a proven track record.


If you want to move from the "4th division" in business to the "1st division" you need to hire people who have potential rather than those who are performing. Those with experience will probably be too expensive and too stuck in their ways to help your business make this massive leap.

Staying in Budget

Top talent is expensive. Your business may need some influential thinkers, but not have the budget for it just yet. This is a perfect opportunity to hire potential.

You need people who are prepared to work really hard but who haven't had the chance to prove themselves yet.

Mentoring Is Rewarding

Mentoring is really satisfying. I really enjoy being able to help people and providing a pathway for them to move to the next level. Mentoring isn't for everyone because it is commitment, but I thrive on it.

How to Hire Potential

Recruiting top talent is easy; you go to a head-hunter and they do it for you. Recruiting potential is harder; it takes more time, but the payoff is so much higher.

The first thing I do is throw the CVs out and look at the cover letters. When people are looking for their first job, their CV will be sparsely populated with things that probably aren't relevant to the job they are applying for. This is not their fault; everyone has to start somewhere, so I try not to look at CVs.

Instead, I look at cover letters. A cover letter is where you can get a small insight into the way someone thinks and acts. At the beginning of their career, their mindset is far more important than anything they have done before.

The second thing I do is look at the way someone sent over their application. If someone emails saying: "see my CV attached" I automatically know they only want a job and do not care who it is with. This is not the kind of person I am looking for.

If someone mentions an aspect of my businesses that they are interested in and want to learn more about in their first email, it means they want to work specifically for me. This is gold dust and exactly what I want.

The second type of person will respond better to mentoring because they are expressly interested in the industry and they really want to work for you. They are a top talent with the desire to go the extra mile.

Finally, I avoid structured interviews. Often, those with the most talent interview badly because they have not been in the environment for long enough to get the experience and become a superstar.

It is easier to get to know people's motivations and drivers in a more relaxed environment. You can see if they are a good fit for your company without feeling like they should fit into certain boxes.

How to Turn Potential Into Performance

Turning potential into performance is time-consuming. It requires you to step into a coaching role to tease the best out of the people you have hired.

It is important to stretch people without taking them to the breaking point. The best way to do this is by setting clear-cut and achievable goals.

It's like climbing a mountain. You do not set the peak as your first achievement point. You set a series of closer goals, and you get a sense of accomplishment as you reach each one.

You should constantly evaluate at each stage and work on strengths and weaknesses to give your employees the highest chance of success.

You cannot hire someone with only potential and leave them to do the job. They will fail if you do not constantly give them feedback and help them learn as they go along.

Hiring potential is not the cheap or easy option, but with the greatest risks comes the greatest rewards.