I was recently invited to speak to a graduate class in the Organizational Development program at The University of St. Thomas. There were about 15 students who were either working in the Human Resources field or aspiring to. And not just anywhere in HR, but particularly in the areas of the field related to growing and developing the health and achievement of individuals and organizations. I chose to talk about what is REALLY needed for individuals to reach their potential within an organization, believing that if the majority of our employees can do that, our organizations will be way more successful.

Winning Conditions

There are 4 necessary conditions for employees to realize their potential within an organizations:

  1. Individual maturity (a combination of self-awareness and self-management)
  2. Two-way dialogue based on reality, trust, and shared goals between employees and managers
  3. Willingness to give in order to receive
  4. Simple processes that provide a written record of agreements/goals


These conditions require a true partnership and shared responsibility among employees, managers, senior leaders and HR professionals. They don’t cost money but they cost something even more priceless – time, vulnerability, and an ethic of care for oneself and one another. And, unfortunately, they are often missing.

Not only are these conditions often missing, they are rarely even sought and, in some cases, they are actively resisted. As a leader/owner of a business, I get that it is a leap of faith to believe that IF you spend the time and commit to creating the above conditions in your organization, individuals will realize their potential and you will reap the benefits in terms of organizational outcomes. There’s no formula that guarantees that the “inputs” of time, vulnerability, and authentic caring will consistently lead to the outputs of greater talents that allow organizations (and the people in them) to succeed.

It Takes a Village

It truly takes a village of willing partners to make this happen, including individual employees, managers, leaders, and HR professionals. They must do their own work separately, then come together to find common ground to make this happen. It almost sounds utopian and naïve but I have seen it ALL come together…and great things happened as a result.

It is not easy to find the time nor create the generosity of heart necessary to cultivate individual potential and realize organizational success. I often fail to find or create it myself!  And it can feel overwhelming to make the effort. That said, here are the most critical things we must do:

 Individual Employees

  • Identify and be willing to share your interests, values, skills, talents with others, including your manager.
  • Look for ways to use these in service of the work that needs doing in your organization. You can ask others for ideas.
  • Get to know and be kind to your “inner 7th grader”. We all have vulnerabilities and fears that prevent us from sharing ourselves, taking risks, and daring to take a stand.


  • Do all of the above because you are an employee too.
  • Learn how to have two-way dialogues. This includes learning how to listen, being curious about others’ points of view, and seeking to understand. You don’t have to have all the answers or be the smartest person in the room.
  • Extend trust to employees; if they betray it, invoke consequences.

Human Resources

  • Do all of the above – you are an employee AND you coach managers to do their jobs better. Model what you teach.
  • Hold managers and leaders accountable to develop their people – THEY own that. You may help coach and advise them but don’t do it for them. I see this all the time and it is a slippery slope that never helps HR.

Senior leaders

  • Do all of the above – you are an employee, you manage your direct reports, and you must do anything you expect HR to teach others to do.
  • Develop your own direct reports if you want them to develop others. You have likely had more development support than you can recall or admit and you didn’t get to where you are on your own. Accept that you must help others to succeed as well.
  • Be clear where you add value to your organization. Your time is not infinite and you are pulled in more directions and have more pressures than others realize. Yet others do not see what you see from your seat in the organization nor can they make the difficult choices that come with executive authority – that’s why they pay you the big bucks!

Is this easy? No. But it is harder still to deal with the lack of information, missed opportunities, turnover, frustration, poor performance and disengagement that results from inaction.

If you’d like to talk about how you can do your part I’d love to help you.

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