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stairs-to-anspirition-4-clManagement and HR literature is heavily weighted towards the topics of leadership and talent identification. In fact, a substantial proportion of the ‘learning and development’ budgets is reserved for employees who display ‘potential’ to reach the highest levels in the company. Yet, we forget that these talented people who occupy the narrow end of the wedge are much like the superstructure of a ship: without the rest of the ship where would the superstructure be?Let us take some examples from sport. Thirty two teams competed at the Football World Cup this year, of which very few had a real chance of making it past the group stage. Yet, could we have had the quarterfinals, semis and finals without the rest of the pack? And consider how many teams had to be eliminated to get the top 32. Similarly in a premium golf tournament, 140 or so players start the field, shortlisted from hundreds of hopefuls who have reached this level of proficiency, from the thousands who make up the international competitive circuit. So while we eagerly follow the progress of the top few, spare a thought for the countless number of other golfers plying their trade around the world.

The point I wish to make (and I am guilty of this myself), is that we do not focus enough attention on the talent that is ‘bubbling under’ the cutoff line of those we describe as having ‘high-potential.’ If we use the basic nine-box model – which plots performance and potential to form a grid – used to assess high-flyers, we see three classifications emerge. High/high, high/low (or low/high), and low/low. While remedial action is definitely needed for the low/lows, how do we handle the ones in the middle?

Within this category we will find many people who could be called ‘diamonds-in-the-rough’; meaning their inherent qualities are waiting to be discovered. How many people do we know who blossomed late in life having been written off earlier? Consider that Pakistan’s squash legend, the late Hashim Khan won his first British Open title at the age of 37, an age when most of the modern players retire; even more surprising is that he won his last title aged 44!

It is true that resources (including time) are limited. However, if we keep our eyes and minds open and are willing to nurture, who knows what gems we may uncover?

– Leon Menezes

The writer is a senior HR practitioner, professor-of-practice and executive coach. 

First published in the Careers Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on September 21, 2014.