The Untapped Potential In Your Business

Image of a single rose on fire

If someone were not to give their best in competing in an event, we would call them out and say they have much more to give. They are leaving untapped potential out of the race and can go a lot further than what they presently are. These are words of encouragement, challenging them to perform at their peak and beyond. As leaders in business, I’m not sure we even know what potential exists in our businesses.


Active Knowledge Question:

How do you measure the untapped potential in your business?



That old expression, ‘that you get what you measure’ is so true. And typically, we measure performance in our businesses against some legacy baseline. It might be an indexed historical budget or an industry benchmark or we may even create stretch in our targets to try and draw out what we think is a higher level of performance.

Sometimes we measure a metric without recognising how it may distort a business’s overall performance. The simplest example is where we chase a sales target without considering margin or credit risk.

Today we are being called, by various special interest groups, to measure various metrics relating to what they consider important indicators of our social responsibility. Yet, rarely, if ever, are these indicators truly validated with customers or shareholders but rather tend to be a response to the loudest noise.

Profit remains the number one measure, with market value being the substitute for the many listed companies that have yet to turn a profit.

There are, however, two measures that are true indicators of the ‘worth’ of a business, and they are the:

  • Percentage of potential that resides in a business that is applied in achieving that business’s purpose and vision.
  • Strength of the symbiotic relationship that exists between a business and the community in which it operates.

Today, I will consider the measure of ‘potential’.


The competitive strength of any business rests in the combined talent and effort of all those persons who work within and with a business. No matter what industry a business may exist in, nor the tangible assets it may own, it is the efforts of its people that will set the floor and ceiling to its performance and success.

You may have the greatest ‘assets’ in the world, but if no one cares or tries, your business will go nowhere.

Potential represents the possible participation and contribution of every single person involved in the business. Are they really interested in delivering their best no matter what role they may play? The question of whether the role they are placed in allows them to contribute their best is also relevant.

Our legacy production approach to business tends to place people in predetermined positions and instruct them to carry out assigned tasks. ‘Can’t you just do as I told you’, is a common expression. So we ask people to do as it has always been done. And the lowest denominator tends to be the standard expected of everyone.

So, what elements may draw untapped potential to the forefront? Well, increasing contribution needs to be drawn forth with a pull motion, not squeezed out with a push motion. It starts with a ‘want’ not a ‘must or else’.

Here are two elements that will draw people to want to participate and contribute to their greatest potential:

  1. A succinct righteous purpose for the business’s existence that people can take pride in. A worthwhile purpose that contributes to a community’s good is typically the starting point. Increased market value or profits is not a worthy cause and is only one outcome of performance, not the catalyst. Profit as a catalyst degrades performance and restricts potential as it is restricted to a few people who are not the source of potential in a business. But contributing to a righteous purpose will draw everyone’s interest.
  2. The opportunity to contribute and to be recognised and rewarded for their contribution. Pose a real worthwhile problem and people will invest themselves in finding the solution. Tell them what you want them to do, and you will get a base-level contribution.

How can you tell if someone, or the business, is releasing their/its untapped potential? Ask them. Ask someone, for example, if they:

  • Are motivated by the customer needs your business meets.
  • Are challenged by their role.
  • Take pride in the work they do.
  • Are given the opportunity to contribute to their full potential.
  • Have ideas on how to improve performance.
  • Are recognised and rewarded for their efforts.

These basic questions can be tightened up and surveyed across an entire business to provide a baseline of potential utilised. And then, as you seek to lift participation and contribution and dismantle the barriers to potential, you can track their effectiveness.


Systemic barriers exist in most businesses that degrade and block performance and limit potential. Here are some key headings:

  • Organisational Design: Many businesses are not designed to deliver on customer value with a clear image of how all the parts fit and work together to deliver the competitiveness to win in their chosen marketplace. They are structured like an organisational chart, which rarely reflects the contribution each area brings to a business’s performance.
  • Managerial Frames: Yesterday’s successes often set the train tracks for how a business will operate in the future. A mantra of better every day with a culture of adaptability simply is not permitted.
  • Bureaucracy: The creation of systems and processes to control and regulate often disempowers potential and creates barriers to participation.
  • Unworthy Leadership: Leaders are not appointed based on character, and self-interest often biases decision-making.
  • Reward Structures: Rewards are heavily leaned /biased towards the upper hierarchy, and there is no reward for the workforce where the untapped potential exists.

Within every business, there is a competitive engine that will engage and release untapped potential. It will also dismantle and remove barriers to performance, as noted above. Every leader should use the elements of this engine to enable and enhance performance.


If you are serious about increasing the performance of your business, then think ‘potential’ and begin to get a handle on the extent of untapped potential in your business. Then, begin to measure this resource and use the elements of your competitive engine to release it. And your business will achieve results you never imagined possible.

An entirely new level of performance.

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All the best in the success of your business,

Richard Shrapnel