Before we start:

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Do you have a hot mess on your hands… or a high-potential company in disguise?

Last week, while preparing for a brand strategy workshop with a cross-functional leadership team, Six-Point Strategist, Marnie, noticed something funky in the client’s pre-workshop assessment data. 

She had me look at the results alongside the historical data we collected from other organizations. This team was significantly underperforming in multiple areas. My first thought was that she was worried their scores were so low, we might not be able to help them within the confines of the workshop. 

“Actually,” she said, “I’ve seen results like this before, and I am thinking the opposite; we might have a very high potential business here.”

I was surprised. Why would she look at lower than average scores across so many different departments and individuals and see opportunity, not a dumpster fire?

Marnie spent a couple of years at Korn Ferry, a leading talent development consulting firm. One of the patterns that Korn Ferry would look for to identify high potential employees (affectionately referred to as HiPoes by Korn Ferry consultants) is that they would consistently rate themselves lower than their peers would rate across all performance categories.

Here’s the big aha: These individuals had high expectations of themselves, and saw opportunity for improvement no matter how seasoned they were or how successful they had been in the past. Their low scores were actually a factor that fed into their high performance. 

When Marnie saw these consistently low client scores, she was reminded of those HiPoes she had seen in the past, which got her wondering… does this company really have so many issues with their positioning and marketing strategy, or could they all just be extremely conscious of what they could do even better?

We went into the first day curious to test her hypothesis. As we heard the realistic but aggressive goals the team had set in their business plan, and then heard them provide rationale for their ratings of various pieces of their current brand, all they could talk about was how it just wasn’t good enough to get them to where they wanted to go. They were unified in their collective demand to get stronger and smarter.




At one point, the CEO asked the question… “So… how do we look in relation to other companies you work with? Not good, right?” He braced himself for what he was sure was bad news. Marnie and I exchanged a quick smile, knowing he was about to be pleasantly surprised. Then we let them in on what we were thinking. This was not just one HiPo employee… this was a high-potential team that was about to make a huge leap forward.

We were excited about these results and this team because too often, we see the opposite: one or two people who see opportunity and are pushing to get better, but others who are very content with, or even protective of, the status quo. This is a tough place to be, because when we are called in to work with family businesses, they are about to make a big jump into unknown territory. They are trying to do something that they have never done before, such as enter a new channel or market, or go through a merger or acquisition. These are companies that often have more to lose than they do to gain, so if everyone is not ready to make the leap, it can be a recipe for disaster.

Our workshops are geared toward gaining alignment around major change initiatives, as well as helping teams walk the line between honoring the past and evolving for the future, since veering too much toward either can be risky. But every once in a while, there is a team that comes in very aligned and self-aware, in which case we can move a little further and a little faster than we might otherwise. 

So, how confident is your team when you talk about how you stack up to the competition or how well your brand is prepared to scale or extend into new markets? If they are openly critical or even a bit negative, don’t get frustrated or defensive. Take a deep breath and a closer look. You are likely surrounded by the very people you need to reach new heights.