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Potential is one of the more favoured terms in the context of personnel and personnel development; potential carriers, potential development, analysis of potential and much more. What are the benefits and disadvantages of this term? In the first place, it means, in most cases, that an observer (i.e. PE procedure, a manager, the HR department, a head hunter, a team) presents the hypothesis that an (arriving) member of the organisation has behaviour possibilities that are not (yet) realised.

Ascribing potential is, thus, an assumption about the future. However, it is, intrinsically, risky. It usually also carries with it an objective limitation, because the potential is bound to a context XY – such as leadership, or a certain function level or an area of responsibility.

Potential is, in fact, always also socially limited, because the observer of the potential is never free from interests and own perspectives, and, therefore, cannot ever make an objective statement. Nevertheless, potential attribution often gains independence in organisations. Once someone ‘has’ potential (or maybe not), he ‘has’ it (or not), because the complexity of the guiding distinction personnel can, in this way, be significantly reduced. One knows who one must pay attention to and who not.

A common assumption is that people to whom potential has been ascribed (“You are going to make something of this!”), also see it like that, and are automatically motivated to unfold this potential and wish to go to there where they are considered suitable. Therefore, on the one hand, light pressure is created upon the affected party. On the other hand, on the psycho-dynamic stage, rebellious, resisting or burdening effects are also formed, which then make a possible development more difficult.