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What's the Difference between High Performing and High Potential Talent?

October 13, 2017

We could all use a competitive advantage with succession planning and organizational development - and knowing what qualities to look for in future leaders is key. High potential individuals usually advance at a faster pace than their peers and are part of the company’s future leadership pool. They are often given high exposure positions, are assigned projects with upper management, and get extra developmental opportunities. But how can we tell that we are identifying the right individuals as “High Potential"?


One of the common ways that high potential individuals are identified is through job performance – the best performers are tagged as "high potential" talent. This makes sense, and to be sure, competence on the job is required for "high potential." But, despite the strong link between job performance and high potential, the best performers are not always the best leaders. Thus, mistaking a high performer for a high potential leader can be costly.  What’s more, failing to identify individuals with high potential can drive those people to take their talents elsewhere.

The best way to succeed in identifying high potential talent is to design a success profile that describes the skills and qualities needed to be a successful leader within the organization.  We know that cognitive ability is the best predictor of job performance, but what is the best predictor of potential? 

Researchers who have attempted to tease out these relationships have identified competencies, such as assertiveness, independence, optimism, flexibility, and social responsibility, that can be found in a high potentials. In our leadership research with Executive Assessments at Select International, we have found that several key competencies have been unique predictors of high potential talent.

These competencies consistently predict high potential talent, even after controlling for the effects of job performance:

  • Learning Ability

  • Creative Thinking

  • Competitive Drive

  • Managerial Courage

Key Takeaway Points:

  • Performance and potential are not the same – while high potentials must be high performers, high performers are not always high potentials.

  • It is important to identify the qualities that constitute high potential talent apart from high performance.

  • These qualities may be difficult to identify given that performance and potential are not mutually exclusive.

For a complete guide to identifying high potentials, download our whitepaper below:

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Kristin Delgado Kristin Delgado is a Senior Research Consultant at PSI. Her areas of expertise include analyzing data, designing and evaluating selection systems in terms of system utility, validity, fairness, and efficiency, and item response methodology. Kristin is a member of the Society for Industrial Organizational Psychology and maintains an active role in conducting applied research.