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A Roadmap for Identifying & Selecting High Potentials

October 14, 2016

Identifying, developing, and engaging high potentials is an important part of every successful organization’s talent strategy. They know that their culture is driven by their leaders and they also know that high performing leaders can be associated with all sorts of positive outcomes (e.g., increased retention of staff, higher employee engagement scores, etc.).

One of the critical drivers of these programs is the need to develop and engage their high potential talent. Organizations have a huge need to not only develop their talent but also to engage them so that they do not go elsewhere looking for advancement and development opportunities. Now more than ever, we are facing a talent war. Great leaders are hard to find and even harder to retain in a competitive global economy.

In order to attract and retain this talent, organizations need to have a structured program for selecting, developing, and engaging high potentials. The problem is that most organizations either don’t have a high potential program or they don’t have a structured way to determine who their high potential employees actually are.

What is Potential?

At the most basic level, potential is defined as the capacity or ability to develop a skill or becoming something more in the future. It can also be described as an underlying trait that has not yet been realized. Essentially this is what we are doing anytime we make a hiring or promotional decision about an employee. We are making an educated guess that they can succeed in a role or function that they haven’t performed in the past.

The most difficult part about potential is to determine who has potential and who does not. We need to figure out the indicators of potential so that we can identify people early in their careers and get them on the correct developmental path.

What Are Indicators of Potential?

Before you begin the process of identification, it’s important to take a step back and ask, potential for what? The answer to this question usually is dictated by the end-state. For example, potential might be defined as having the ability to move into another role, to move into a role that is two or more levels higher than the current position, or to take on a broader scope of work (including leadership components).

Defining high potential by role, level, or breadth are the most common definitions used by organizations (Church, Rotolo, Ginther, & Levine, 2015). However, when defining potential in your organization, it is critical that you align the definition of potential to your organization’s strategies and long-term goals for the future. If an organization anticipates the demand for senior managers to increase in the next few years, defining potential by role makes sense.

Alternatively, if the organization’s strategy is to ensure leaders have a greater skill-set so they can lead effectively across functions, then they should define potential by breadth. While an organization may be hesitant to develop a very clear definition of potential because they want flexibility, it is important, especially among leaders helping with these decisions, so that everyone is calibrated on who qualifies for the extra resources.

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Alissa Parr, Ph.D. Alissa Parr, Ph.D. is a Senior Consultant at PSI. Her areas of expertise include the development, implementation, and evaluation of assessment processes. Alissa has experience managing entry-level through executive level assessment and selection efforts across a number of different industries including government, financial, military, education, healthcare, and manufacturing.