Demystifying Potential: Top tips for identifying and supporting your high potential employees

Recent research has revealed that 68% of companies with a high potential programme say that it is not very effective (DDI, 2017). This statistic is worryingly high; as pressure mounts on organisations to grow their own talent, it is crucial to get it right. But where are organisations going wrong?

20th August 2018

Charlotte Harman

Why potential identification programmes might fail?

  • Are they confusing potential and performance, and therefore identifying the wrong people?

  • Are they relying on biased methods of identifying potential such as line manager recommendations?

  • Are they high potential programmes lacking transparency, tailoring or training and subsequently demotivating those selected? Or, indeed, those not selected?

If the above resonates with you, we have answered some key questions to help you understand and identify potential and embed successful potential programmes for your early talent.

1.    What is potential?

Cubiks defines potential as the ability to be successful in a role that goes beyond a person’s current responsibilities – we focus on the future. This role could involve a vertical or horizontal move. Traditionally, high potentials were seen as employees who accelerated up the career ladder faster than their peers. But lately, as organisational structures shift, increasing attention is also being paid to those able to grow into more technical/expert roles or operate effectively in matrix, as opposed to hierarchical, organisations.

2.    How do potential and performance differ?

Performance is a measure of an individual’s ability to deliver results in their current job; it is focused on the present. A potential assessment should measure whether an individual could take on different roles in the future. If your high potentials are identified on the basis of performance alone, you’re likely to be missing out on identifying promising talent.

3.    Is it really possible to assess potential?

Despite advocating the prediction of something that doesn’t yet exist, there is academic consensus on four key ingredients of high potential. These are: cognitive skills, personality, learning agility and motivation (Silzer & Church, 2009). Cubiks has therefore launched a scientifically-grounded potential assessment solution that assesses these ingredients.

4.    How do you embed a successful high potential programme?

Here are five top tips you can consider to maximise the success of your programme:

  1. Be transparent – about the programme across the organisation. Be clear with those selected that they are considered a talent; what expectations you have of them and what they might expect from you – and the opportunities this affords them. Be transparent with those who have not been selected and have a strategy for maintaining their engagement and motivation. This limits the risk of disappointment.
  2. Ensure that your approach to potential assessment is objective, inclusive and scientifically grounded, not just based on subjective manager ratings. Train the individuals assessing your talent pool so that they know what they are looking for and how to look for it.
  3. Share lots of feedback – Help high potentials understand their strengths, development areas and rate of progress; building self-awareness is crucial for development.
  4. Broaden their horizons – Encourage and provide opportunities for high potential employees to build a broader network within your organisation and industry. This will encourage them to step up, be visible and maintain awareness of industry trends. It will help them grow the network they’ll need to be successful in the future.
  5. Align aspirations and values – To keep high potentials engaged and sustain their intrinsic motivation and drive, you need to ensure there’s a match between their values, aspirations, and capacity, and the opportunities open to them.


Want to hear more and discuss how to embed a successful high potential programme at your organisation? Get in touch

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