How To Bridge The Gap Between Potential And Performance

How do you manage someone who has who has more energy than experience? Here are four priorities to get started.

How To Bridge The Gap Between Potential And Performance
[Photo: Monkey Business Images via Shutterstock]

It’s a paradox of modern times: Between internships and extracurricular activities, today’s recent grads have more experience, yet many employers feel like they aren’t prepared for office life. As many have said before, a college degree has become the new high-school diploma. This means that college hasn’t prepared students for the workplace as it was intended to. It’s the Young Employee Dilemma and it’s time to bridge the gap between potential and performance.


It takes experience to get experience, which means young professionals at their first jobs can end up feeling like the black sheep of the company. While they may have unmatched potential and a degree that possibly should have earned them a higher position, they’re not among your top performers. When employees have more energy than experience, I suggest you nurture them, leveraging the following four priorities:

1. Value Relationships Before Results

I recognize you’ve got to generate revenue—or you’ll go out of business. You’ll gain an ally to increase profits, however, if you demonstrate you value your young professionals. They often feel their baby-boomer or generation-X boss doesn’t care about them personally. They feel they’re expendable—like just another “number” at the office. They’re not job hopping because they aren’t loyal. They are keeping their options open for other opportunities because they feel they may be let go at any moment.

If we want loyalty, we must model loyalty—and it must start with a culture of care and growth. Show that you want to invest in them and other young team members. When leadership genuinely cares about the personal life of team members, it shows young employees that their company is willing to go above and beyond to support them. And they want to return the favor.

2, Offer Harsh Explanations in Light of High Expectations

Giving feedback—even difficult feedback—is possible when you position it in light of high expectations. Research shows that managers can furnish harsh feedback when it’s positioned this way: “I’m giving you this feedback because I have high expectations of you and I know you can reach them.” Suddenly, they don’t feel like a loser, but an achiever. You’re simply saying: I believe you are better than this.

If you want them to go the second mile, model it in your own life. If you want them to grow, you need to develop them. Like it or not, the companies that are finding and retaining the best young professionals are ones that assume the role of mentors. They believe in their young team members, allowing them to fail and cultivating resilience in them. Jobs become more than transactional, but transformational.

3. Teach the Importance of Soft Skills

You already know this—but employers are crying out for fundamental skills in job candidates, like eye contact, positive attitudes, emotional intelligence, communication, and collaboration. Recent grads have been working on their GPA and hard skills—but haven’t taken courses in people skills. Employers today are more concerned with EQ than GPA. This means we must take time to mentor them, not just manage them. To earn a return on investment from younger staff, we have to actually make some investment. Instead of just giving them a task, also give them your time.


Be available for conversations, on their progress and demonstrate you’re willing to help. Don’t just foster company growth at meetings, foster personal growth as well.

4. Cultivate Unity in the Midst of Diversity

I’ve often said that relating to a twentysomething for me is like a cross-cultural relationship. In the land of tomorrow—I am an immigrant and they are natives. I do much better when I work at connecting with them just as intentionally as I would a cross-cultural relationship, where I must learn a new language, customs, and values. When they see me working at connecting with them, it cultivates unity in the midst of diverse generations. At my company, Growing Leaders, we practice reverse mentoring where our senior staff pour into young team members, but we also seek their insights based on their strengths. I also try to speak their language—recognizing they may prefer flexibility in hours over monetary bonuses. Private listening fosters public loyalty.

As leaders, our success rides on our ability to harvest and unleash the potential of those following in our footsteps. But it’s difficult to do when this generation of professionals continues to show us they are unlike any other. Therefore, the first and most important piece of the puzzle is understanding who this new generation of workers really are so we can adapt our management style to better lead them.

As a sought-after speaker, author, and president of Growing Leaders, Tim Elmore works with thousands of young professionals on easing their transition from “backpack to briefcase” as they enter the real world. Information on “Habitudes for the Young Professional” can be found here. You can follow Tim on Twitter or sign up to receive his blog.