People are often capable of far more than we realize. It is not uncommon for people to work below their true potential (Kaplan, 2008). With the right knowledge and tools, we can learn to expand the capacity of our people, and get them to perform at a level they themselves never thought possible. Just as your company cannot succeed without the right employees, your employees cannot succeed without the right support.

If you have worked for any company, you would know that high potential and high performance isn’t always in alignment. Identifying an underperforming high-potential employee is an invaluable skill for any manager to possess (Westfall, 2019). A skilled manager can expand the capacity of their people and unlock their hidden potential.  A good leader can unlock this hidden potential by asking the right questions, working to build an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect, and providing opportunities to go above and beyond.

Workplace culture is an extremely important part of any organization, especially when it comes to the performance of people. A good culture within a company can help people to work at their full capacity (Bennett, 2019). Similarly, an adverse culture can have the opposite effect, pulling everyone down.

“At critical moments in time, you can raise the aspirations of other people significantly, especially when they are relatively young, simply by suggesting they do something better or more ambitious than what they might have in mind.  It costs you relatively little to do this, but the benefit to them, and to the broader world, may be enormous. This is in fact one of the most valuable things you can do with your time and with your life. ” – Tyler Cowen

But how does one go about establishing a culture where people perform at their highest levels? If you are a manager or a leader, the below steps are for you:-

9 Ways to Expand the Capacity of Your People

1. Understand Them as People

People value being recognized as individuals, and not just as tools and resources to get a job done. It is important to build a strong manager-employee relationship if you want to increase their engagement and retain them (Markos & Sridevi, 2010). Furthermore, a report by The Towers Perrin Talent Report (2003) listed “senior management’s interest in employees’ well-being” as the key drivers in work-related performance.

Evidently, getting to know your people is a worthwhile exploit but how is this best achieved?

Scheduling regular one-to-one meetings is a great starting point. Each meeting is different from the last but the overall outcome will be a deeper understanding of your employees as people and a stronger working relationship.

Topics of discussion during any such 1-on-1 meeting can include upcoming projects, work-related concerns, or personal updates. Possible questions which may elicit particularly useful responses are as follows:

1. What concerns do you have at work?

2. What do you find especially enjoyable or engaging at work?

3. How do you define your best work? What can I do to help?

4. When was the last time you laughed at work? Do you have friends at work?

5. How do you spend your time outside of work?

6. If you could change one thing in the workplace what would it be?

The benefits of these conversations are two-fold. Firstly, you will get to know your employees as people. The insight you gain from these chats can inform the decisions you make regarding regular day to day work activities. Through honest inquiry and asking questions, you will find out what your people care about.

Secondly, as a direct result of your communication, people will feel valued. One-to-one meetings allow you to express your interest in people and show that you care. Feeling valued will allow people to shed any inhibitions and bring themselves to work fully.

Make a mental note to ask about their child’s recent sporting event or their dog’s surgery. These connections create opportunities to learn more about what motivates them, what gets them excited, what their goals are.

In short, having open communication regularly will benefit both you and your employees. It will not only increase work performance, but also increase the amount of fun, happiness, and satisfaction people have after work.

Our Potential For Performance Is Huge
Our Potential For Performance Is Huge

2. Treat Them as a Superhero

Showing belief in someone can be powerful. It is so easy to judge, doubt, and belittle people that honest belief in someone’s abilities can be refreshing and empowering. Shine the spotlight on your people. Use recognition to give them courage and permission to keep pushing the limits of their ability. Do not only recognize success, but also growth and effort. A sense of worth within a company will without doubt lead to improved output.

 “If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”

― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

As per the Development Dimensions International, empowerment is one of the five conditions needed to create a “highly engaged workforce” (DDI, 2005). Do your best to instill confidence in your employees and, in turn, the likelihood of them performing to their capacity will increase.

Self-confidence comes from within but external forces like the culture at work and belief from superiors can play a big part. When you build confidence in your employees, the end result will likely surprise not only you but also your people. Give them your confidence and trust and watch your superheroes rise to the occasion and outperform even your expectations. 

According to Forbes, 70% of workers say that motivation and morale would improve if managers simply said thank you more. Fifty-four percent of employees feel their boss could do more to appreciate them. If you want to enable your people to do more, show more appreciation. 

Treating your people as superheroes can instill a lot of confidence in people. This can come from the way you speak to them or even just your actions. Believing that an employee is capable of much more than their current performance can help change your actions and words in many subtle ways. These small changes are reflected in your body language and tone of voice, and give people confidence and belief in their own abilities, freeing them of any doubts and insecurities.

Can You Bring Out Your Inner SuperHero?
Can You Bring Out Your Inner SuperHero?

3. Provide The Best Resources Possible

Understanding your workforce goes further than simply getting to know them. Use the above mentioned one-to-one meetings to engage people in dialogue about what tools and resources they need to do their job. As a leader, once you find out what resources will help them do their job more efficiently, waste no effort in providing them. After all, an experienced gardener with a rake is less efficient than an apprentice with a leaf blower.

Research highlights the importance of supplying workers with suitable tools and resources such as improved scheduling functionalities. By delivering superior resources, employees are far more likely to be engaged in their work and perform to their best ability (Chung and Angeline, 2010). Having what you need to do your work also avoids any unnecessary frustrations, which can sap useful energy and slow you down.

As we saw in point 1, asking questions can help you figure what people care about. Your task as a leader is now to take care of what they care about. And you do that by providing whatever people need to perform at their best.

4. Avoid Micromanaging

A big part of the manager-employee relationship is trust, specifically the trust you need to show in your people. As leaders, once we hire the appropriate people, it is important to trust them without asking for reasons to do so. Once they have what they need, get out of their way.

Resisting the temptation to micromanage and involve yourself in every task can be difficult. Allowing your people to do what they do best without interference will, however, lead to better results in the long-run. Provide them the assurance and freedom they need and desire to do their job. Give them ownership, so the work is theirs, not yours. This makes their tasks, their projects, and their responsibilities more meaningful.

There is a lot of overlap between points three and four as highlighted by Markos (2010). He states that by providing all the adequate resources, information, and training, employees can develop their knowledge and skills. This, in turn, builds confidence, allows them to work without supervision, and fosters self-efficacy and commitment to the job.

Take the stabilisers off their bicycles and they will learn to ride more proficiently.

“There is no passion to be found playing small — in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

— Nelson Mandela

5. Setting Effective Goals

Goal-setting is a great motivator in the workplace but it needs to be done correctly. Goals should be ambitious enough to encourage people to work at their full capacity but they must also be achievable. 

The BlessingWhite (2006) study showed that 60% of employees surveyed wanted more opportunities to grow within their job in order to remain satisfied. The study corroborates the idea that setting goals in which employees can advance their skills is very important. Goals also give a sense of progress and build momentum, as people start to hit bigger and bigger goals, building confidence and higher levels of ability.

This does, however, raise the question – “How to set the right goals?”.

The answer? SMART goals.

George T. Doran is widely recognised as the person responsible for the acronym SMART. This goal-setting framework is widely used in the business world today and uses a simple actionable set of rules. These rules are as follows:

Goals should be:

S – Specific – Clear and easy to comprehend by all involved. Can everyone relay the goal?

M – Measurable – Can you easily determine whether the goal has been achieved?

A – Achievable – Is the goal realistic? It may be ambitious, but is it feasible?

R – Relevant – What is the benefit of achieving the goal? Is there a point to it?

T – Time-bound – What is the timeframe to complete the goal? Without one the goal can lack direction.

Setting ambitious goals will encourage people to think outside the box. Provided they are motivated, they will push their capabilities to the maximum and take bold actions in order to achieve the goal. By doing so they will expand their skill set in the process. Your job as a leader is to provide whatever they need to go after their big goals and remove any roadblocks that might stand in the way.

Use BIG goals to push people out of their comfort zone, take bold actions, and expand the horizons of their ability. They will never know what they are capable of if they are not given the opportunity to strive for more than they are currently doing.

How To Expand The Capacity of Your People
See The Big Picture

6. Mistakes Are an Opportunity

Mistakes are unavoidable when chasing big goals but how you deal with them can make a world of difference. Instead of viewing mistakes as a negative, see them an opportunity to learn. This begins by showing your own vulnerabilities as a leader. If you make a mistake, it’s important to admit it. Be willing to accept feedback on your performance and then use the information for positive change.

Blaming and penalising people for mistakes and failure can create a toxic workplace culture, which is counterproductive, not to mention unpleasant.

Zhao, Lautsch, and Boyle delved deeper into the topic in their 2016 research paper. They concluded that although errors may be prevalent in the workplace, they do indeed offer the opportunity for learning.

If people work in fear of failing, they lose initiative and will never take the necessary risks to go beyond their current capacity. They need to be confident that failure is permissible, and even desired, as part of what it means to learn and expand our abilities.

If you, as a manager, have an open dialogue with your employees, you will be able to easily determine how and why a mistake occurred. The focus should be on learning from the mistakes and making improvements, rather than blaming or punishing those who were responsible.

In many high trust cultures, mistakes and lessons learned are often shared with the entire company, without naming or blaming any individuals responsible for the mistake.

“ A boss who micromanages is like a coach who wants to get in the game. Leaders guide and support and then sit back to cheer from the sidelines.”

Simon Sinek

7. Wider Context Is Key

Context can sometimes be a vague term but it encapsulates everything we do. Understanding the wider context behind an organization, both in a holistic and individual sense, is paramount to success.

Breaking that down, the vision of the individuals within a company has to be aligned with the company’s vision in order to cultivate success. 91% of companies surveyed who have an effective performance management system claim their employees’ goals are linked to the business’ (Chowdhury and Hioe, 2017). People become more effective contributors when they fully understand what they are contributing to.

The Developmental Dimensions International (2005) was referred to in point two and is once again relevant here. The paper states that managers must align employee efforts with a strategy in order to achieve a highly engaged workforce.

Organizations need leaders who can both communicate a vision and get employees to buy into that vision (Sadeghi and Pihie, 2012). If you believe in the destination, you will do everything you can to get there.

8. Be Supportive

Employee concerns affect productivity. The role of a manager is to manage their team. This includes easing fears and doubts and creating a more productive atmosphere as a result.

People start relationships, get married, receive diplomas, and experience other highs which can improve productivity. Equally, people will experience divorce, bereavement, childcare issues, and other personal issues that will negatively affect their output at work.

Anxiety, stress, and fear are emotions that everyone goes through and the workplace is not exempt from them. Make sure to be supportive so that you help and not worsen the situation. Your job as a leader is to make sure your people know you have their back. They must know there is always an open line of communication for guidance and support.

They must feel comfortable and confident before they will be willing to take on that big project or go beyond their current abilities. Build on their strengths, empower them to take risks and voice their thoughts, practice constant optimism, and never stop communicating. 

Some of the most common workplace concerns include:

·         Wanting a pay rise

·         Favouritsm

·         Excessive management

·         Unnecessary or unclear processes

·         Lack of communication

·         Being overworked

·         Workplace politics

Support doesn’t necessarily have to come directly from you. If you can implement the right structure to deal with issues that arise. Your job is to allow your people to work to their maximum capacity, and that might mean connecting people across teams and departments if they can help each other.

Your goal as a manager is to support your people and help them realize their biggest dreams.  The findings of a 2019 study by Leitão, Pereira, and Gonçalves suggest that supervisor support and a “good work environment” are important in organizational productivity.

Taking care of your employees’ welfare and supporting them in moments of anxiety and stress will allow them to perform to a higher standard and flourish. That is how you, as a leader, show that you care for your people. You care for your people by taking care of what they care about.

“Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.”

― Viktor E. Frankl

9. Escape the Bubble

Routine has a lot of positives but it can also be stifling. Sometimes taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture can be a refreshing exercise. This isn’t just a solo activity either, as you can involve your people in the same.

Take time to talk to people about their deepest dreams, ambitions, and hopes for the future. Talk about what can we do better in the future and how to work better together. Having the opportunity to voice these thoughts, be heard, and work together for the good of all is empowering and will give your people the confidence they need to do more than they think they are capable of. 

By doing so you’re indirectly reinforcing their (perhaps waining) motivation. Perspective can often get lost in the routine of a 9 to 5 and it is important to bring it to the forefront of your employees’ thinking. You will get a clearer perspective looking at a house from outside than inside. 

Help people connect with their deepest values and why they are doing what they are doing. Once they can step back and see the big picture, and then come back to focus on the detail and execute the day to day tasks, your job becomes easier.

This point nicely ties in with all of the previous eight. To achieve it you need to have an understanding (1) and mutual trust (4) with your workforce. In escaping the bubble they are able to remind themselves of their goals (5), fuelled by the confidence you have instilled in them (2) with support (8) and resources (3). They are able to consider the wider context (7) and make improvements towards that from what they have learned (6).


1. Understand Them as People – People are multi-faceted. Get to know them beyond work.

2. Treat Them as a Superhero – Belief is key. Confidence will take them (and you) a long way.

3. Provide the Best Resources Possible – Without the correct resources, people cannot perform to optimum levels.

4. Avoid Micromanaging – Step back and trust your people to flourish.

5. Set Effective Goals – Go after ambitious SMART goals to enhance capacity.

6. Mistakes Are an Opportunity – Turn a negative into a positive and build for the future.

7. Wider Context is Key – There is always a ‘why’. Understanding it will open doors.

8. Be Supportive – Creating the right environment for your people is paramount. Have their back.

9. Escape the Bubble – Take a step back. See the big picture together so that everything else falls into place.

Getting the best out of people is by no means a simple task. It requires hard work, effort, and dedication to the cause. The ideas above will help you unlock the potential of your people. By employing these in your own organization, you will be taking steps towards expanding the capabilities of your employees and helping them reach their potential.

Everyone wants to work in a workplace where mistakes are used as opportunities to learn, where employees are given the tools they need to be successful, and where they know they are supported as they do the best work of their lives.

If your employees are not working to their full potential, then neither are you. By seeing people as superheroes and showing that belief with your actions and words, you will help them become superheroes going after meaningful and ambitious goals.


  1. The Four Steps to Building a Coaching Culture
  2. High Potentials vs. High Performers: A Manager’s Guide to Identify, Assess and Develop
  3. 8 foolproof employee engagement ideas for your remote team
  4. Reaching Your Potential
  5. Science Says Only 8 Percent of People Actually Achieve Their Goals. Here Are 7 Things They Do Differently
  6. Quality of Work Life and Organizational Performance: Workers’ Feelings of Contributing, or Not, to the Organization’s Productivity
  7. Effective Employee Engagement in the Workplace
  8. 10 Employee Concerns That Affect Productivity
  9. An explanation of SMART goals and how to write them
  10. How effective goal-setting motivates employees
  11. Mistakes Happen – So Manage Them
  12. The culture of learning from mistakes: How employees handle mistakes in everyday work | Request PDF
  14. Moving from performance measurement to performance management
  15. Get to know your employees better
  16. How to Deal with Your Emotions In The Workplace And Make Them Work For You |
  17. 9 immediate ways to improve communication in the workplace
  18. A Brief History of SMART Goals 
  19. Quality of Work Life and Organizational Performance: Workers’ Feelings of Contributing, or Not, to the Organization’s Productivity