‘High potentials’ is a term frequently used to describe individuals who have attributes that are seen as desirable for the future leadership of the organisation. It is hugely beneficial to identify such high potentials, but it is not always seen as an easy task.
Before you can identify your high potentials from your good performers, you need to establish criteria against which to measure your employees. You may have a gut feel about who your key players are, but without hard evidence your high potential decisions could be biased and result in incorrect choices.
Kip Kelly from Kenan-Flagler Business School, suggests three main criteria to identify high potentials:
- Review relevant research
This means gaining an understanding of what is meant by high potentials. What are their core qualities and how do these qualities contribute to business success?
The specific criteria for identifying high potentials in your organisation will be shaped to the needs of your company and where it’s headed, but there are some key behaviours and skills that are shared.
- Define terminology such as potential, performance, readiness, and fit
To ensure that all levels of the organisation can identify and nurture high potentials, it is important to develop consistent definitions that apply across the organisation.
- Specify high-potential criteria and attributes for the organisation as a whole, and for specific roles and positions
In essence, we need to create competency frameworks that define and describe the skills and behaviours that reflect the profiles of high potentials. This can be done at both the enterprise-wide level and for particular roles.
Is it measurable?
When defining your high potential criteria, ensure that it is measurable. This makes it easier for people to identify who is a high potential and who is not, without muddying the decision making process with emotion. People can be measured against the behaviours and skills defined in the high potential framework by using tailored assessment programmes.
Be clear about what high potential means
High potential isn’t whether someone is ready for a role now; it’s whether they have the potential to be ready in the future. The task is establishing whether someone can be nurtured so that they can develop into that role. For example in a leadership role this may be the ability to think strategically. The individual may not currently have the knowledge to think about the problems they might need to address in a future leadership position, but they display the skills needed to think about a problem in a strategic manner.
Be open to change
The needs of organisations frequently change, which means the desirable skills and behaviours of high potentials, will also change. Keep up to date with the changing needs and adapt the high potential criteria accordingly.
Once you have a high potential employee, how do you nurture their talent?
- Give them ongoing feedback about their performance.
- Bring high potentials together to learn from each other, and assign them to projects that allow them to develop the desirable skills.
- Be transparent. Grossman, 2011, quoted in an Insights of the Centre for Creative Leadership article, said; “the Center for Creative Leadership found that of high-potentials not informed of their status, one-third said they were looking for another job. Of those who knew their status, only 14 percent said they were looking (Grossman, 2011).”
Understand what motivates your high potentials
When people are motivated, they perform better and are more open to learning and growing with the organisation. In an article for SHRM Roland Smith, lead researcher at the Center for Creative Leadership in Colorado Springs, suggests that people are not necessarily looking for monetary rewards. “What they’re looking for instead are the things that truly differentiate employers. These include opportunities to more directly influence and direct their careers and more-challenging assignments with real risks and rewards.”
Identifying high potentials is not a one-time process. It’s an ongoing activity that takes deep dives into the needs of the business, reviews the talent that already exists, and assesses the skills and behaviours that are required to take the organisation to the next level.
Come and find out how we can help you with your talent strategy at Psyence.