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3 Steps To Activating Employee Potential In The Workplace

How much can an organization reasonably expect to shape and develop employee potential in the workplace? According to modern brain science, quite a bit.

Your organization is struggling with unrealized potential – and it’s got plenty of company. 

According to a study done by the Middlesex University for Work Based Learning, 74% of employees feel that they aren’t achieving their full potential at work.1 

The problem is more than just a lack of opportunity. Most employees simply don’t know the path to doing better

According to a survey of over 550 organizations, only 12% of employees strongly agreed that they understood performance goals set for them, let alone a feasible path to improvement.2 

Among HR professionals and their organizations, there’s also some confusion as to how much they can reasonably expect to shape employee potential in the workplace.  More often than not, the bulk of their focus is on acquiring talent that is already

  • Self-motivated 
  • Good at making decisions when it comes to their work & team members
  • Understanding of business needs
  • Good at developing & implementing new ideas
  • Exceptional at professional relationships

Very few organizations approach these traits as the fruitage of something that can be developed internally.  But they should. Modern brain science suggests that these qualities are not just the property of a special few, but rather, signs of something we at Think-X like to call “fully activated human potential.” 

Fully activated human potential is easy to spot.  People who use their full potential fearlessly contribute and consider new ideas. They see and confidently explore opportunities. They embrace change, welcome new connections, and easily absorb information. They get more done and patiently overcome challenges. They get rewarded for their persistence and accomplishments. They maintain well-being, inner peace, and mindful presence. They have a natural magnetism that attracts people and opportunities. 

The question is this: If unlocking human potential really is simply a matter of development, what steps can an organization take to support unlocking that potential? 

To answer these questions, let’s first explore the ingredients of unrealized potential.  

How Employee Potential Is Imprisoned

Have you ever felt yourself reacting to something as though it were a fact – even though you technically knew it wasn’t? 

Perhaps when you were in school, you felt less than confident about passing an exam – and subsequently found it almost impossible to take the test well? Or perhaps you found yourself wanting to learn a new skill, but concluded on your first try that it was simply too hard – and you promptly found learning the subject to be an impossible venture. 

This wasn’t a coincidence. It’s evidence that your brain is working the way it should. 

According to cognitive-behavioral science, most of our decisions in life are not completely logical, but rather, rooted in something called “emotional reasoning”.  Emotional reasoning is defined as the process where we create “emotional truths” – ideas based on our deep feelings about something – and act on them as though they were indisputable facts.3 


Anxious woman having a phone conversation


A few decades ago, brain scientists began to theorize that each time a person concluded that their emotional reaction to something was valid, it became their reality. Even when evidence was presented to the contrary, persons would often dismiss or disregard it in favor of the “truth” that felt right.  

Consider the upsell a notoriously difficult client – one they’ve never quite been able to close a deal example of an underperforming sales professional. Let’s say they’re preparing to pitch. As the day of the pitch gets closer, their brain may be reciting this script: “It doesn’t matter how well I prepare, I’m just not going to get this sale…I never do well with this client….This just isn’t the type of service they’d be interested in… What if they ask me something I can’t answer like the last presentation?…”. 

How do you think they’ll perform? In reality, there could be a considerable opportunity for success. But after this internal battle, it would take nothing short of a miracle for that opportunity to be realized.  

So how exactly do we come to accept these false emotional reasonings as fact if they’re so untrue? Brain scientists theorize that the “spark” for such reasonings were negative thoughts – thoughts that are almost imperceptible to the conscious mind.

Understanding, Shaping and Reinforcing The Building Blocks Of Fully Realized Potential In Employees

There’s an order to our lives that starts with our thoughts and ends in oh-so-familiar outcomes. The outcomes in your life are a product of specific behaviors, repeated again and again. Those behaviors are influenced by your feelings, which are triggered by certain basic beliefs. 

And those basic beliefs? They start from very simple (and often erroneous) thoughts. 

Of course, the thinking patterns that precede your beliefs, feelings, behavior, and outcomes do not stand on their own – they’re mediated by internal mental processes. These internal mental processes, which we refer to as Root Source Thinking, use data from our intrinsic and extrinsic experiences to create the foundation for how we see the world, think about the world, and ultimately behave in the world.

Herein lays the key to real, lasting improvement. 

If even an underperforming employee is allowed the resources and training to adjust their root source thoughts when it comes to their performance/skillset, they could quickly unlock their true potential.  

While it’s true thinking patterns are a product of years of reinforcement, fortunately, the path to changing those thinking patterns is a much shorter one. 

STEP 1: Objectively understanding root source thinking.

Change starts with self-awareness. Using a quantitative diagnostic, employers can help their workers objectively measure their performance and establish a baseline to see progress. Thus, employees who are willing to make behavioral changes can now have the knowledge they need to continue improving in any area they choose. 

STEP 2: Accountable reinforcement. 

This second step is key to creating and maintaining new, more productive thinking patterns. Using cognitive-behavioral techniques, new thinking patterns can be developed by writing down, visualizing, saying, and conscientiously applying the new thoughts. Eventually, these practiced new thoughts create stronger, default neural pathways so they become the default thinking patterns and take the place of the old, undesirable ones.

These new thinking patterns or thought shifts can be developed on one’s own, with a personal coach, or with an e-coaching system.  With any behavioral change process, it is humanly hard to stick to it without some outside encouragement and support. A professional development tool that encourages an accountability system, partner, or community can use positive peer pressure to help keep employees motivated and moving forward. 

STEP 3: Ongoing monitoring and support. 

As an employee’s potential is realized, they’ll begin to feel less stressed, more confident, and achieve more satisfying results – and a quantitative checkpoint will let them fully measure and appreciate their success.  Neural pathways are just like muscles: You must use them, so you don’t lose them! Thus, ongoing practice, support, and monitoring – preferably in the form of an accountability system, coach, or community – can be a critical part to keep their potential activated.

Could your organization use an diagnostic-based system for unlocking human potential? 

You may want to start your search with Think-XTM 

Using Think-X Discover, a patented, validated, and EEOC-compliant diagnostic, the Think-X system allows participants to improve their performance with a personalized report and perfectly tailored, technology- assisted coaching program. Users can work independently, in a small group, or with a Think-X Certified Coach.

There are also options for ongoing self-development support. Using videos, articles, interactive discussions, and virtual events, Think Xchange provides on-demand support throughout everyone’s self-development journey. 


Here’s what some proponents of Think-X had to say: 


“It’s a win/win in each column: Diagnostic tools combined with great coaching for someone looking to improve.”
Lew Walker, SPHR, Principal, KL HR advisors

“Think-X gives everyone a systematic way to level up their thinking to enable more productive behavior and results.”​
Beth Davis​, Founder, The Llewellin Groups, LLC

“I now believe that people can change from any state…Think-X helps because it gives a viewpoint of definable performance drivers to set goals to.  These are the keys to get from where you are to where you want to be. Most people never get the tools to make change happen.​”
Jim E.​, Zebra Technologies


To learn more about Think-X’s professional development tools, click here.


  1. (Middlesex University London, n.d.) 
  2. Harter, J. (2015, September 28). Obsolete Annual Reviews: Gallup’s Advice. 
  3. De Sousa, R., & Morton, A. (2002). Emotional Truth. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes, 76, 247-275. Retrieved January 20, 2021, from