The High Potential or Not Interested Employee

Dear Ken Keller,

I have one employee at my company that has a lot of potential. At least, I think he has potential.

All the basics are covered with this guy; he shows up early, follows the rules, does what he’s asked and does a great job. The other people here like him, enjoy being around him and, I sense, they think he is a leader.

But his behavior doesn’t demonstrate what they seem to believe. He’s a hard worker, but only shows initiative once in a while. He doesn’t step up and take control when there is a need.

What are your thoughts? —Vickie M.

Dear Vickie,

Seems to me you’ve been doing a lot of observing and maybe talking to others about this guy, but you did not mention actually speaking to him about being something more than a baseline employee in your company.

Many people have potential, but the key question is what is your goal of tapping into that potential?

You need to be clear in your own mind as to what the role is you want this gentleman to possibly play in your company.

Do you want him to be in charge when you are not there? Do you want him to have keys to the place so he can open it in the morning and close it at the end of the day? Approving invoices and signing checks? Hiring people? Terminating people? Signing contracts with suppliers?

If you want someone to step up and take control when there is a need that means you want him to have the authority and the responsibility of a manager. I can assure you that when you ask someone to make this step they will expect a pay increase and far more clarity about his role.

He may not be ready or interested in being a manager. For some, this means altering their relationships at work. People who were equals, no longer are. Others don’t want the burden of more responsibility. Some lack the maturity. Others will jump at the chance.

Also, I’ve mentioned previously in my columns about the need to make certain that when you give people the responsibility for taking on a task, you have to provide the same level of authority – or any arrangement will only work for a very short period of time.


Dear Ken Keller,

My husband and I own this business together. Since the first day, he has handled sales and I took care of the paperwork, administration and all the stuff he doesn’t like doing.

Because our business is seasonal, when the selling season stops my husband has nothing to do. But for me, once sales are done, we still have to produce, ship, bill and collect, and I am very busy.

I know you do not know our business or our industry, but have you had experience dealing with this kind of situation and what did you or would you recommend we do? —Linda F.


Dear Linda,

I have had several situations that were similar. In one case, the wife “fired” her husband from the business for a few months. She did this for two years if I recall correctly. He didn’t like it, but when he came back he had figured out how he could be something more substantial than a pest to his wife.

Instead of you carrying the burden of finding something to do for your husband, why don’t you come up with a list of things you want done but don’t have the time to do. See if he can not only take care of those, but add some of his own projects.

Or, you can fire him. My client never regretted letting her husband do something else while she was busy working.