3 Strategies to Boost High-Potential Identification and Development in 2022

More than half of employers (55%) believe improving how high-potential leaders are identified is critical to scaling leadership development, according to Brandon Hall Group research. And development of high-potential leaders ranks number-one in leadership development investment priorities for 2022. 

Prospective leaders are traditionally identified by their performance in their job roles. They attend classes, take courses and are often promoted into leadership roles with little or no practical experience. 

Even incumbent leaders are often selected for promotion based on current performance, not their potential for succeeding in more advanced roles, which often are unrelated or only tangentially related to their current capabilities. 

More organizations are beginning to understand that their approach to high-potential identification and development must be more sophisticated, according to Brandon Hall Group research: 

Identification of potential should be based not only on performance and ability but aspiration and engagement. 

Development should not only be more focused on learning new skills and behaviors but the ability and agility in applying them to new and unfamiliar situations.

  • What is the best way to identify high-potential leaders? 
  • How can we better understand how high-potentials might perform in new roles? 

Look Into the Future When Assessing Leadership Potential 

Organizations focus predominantly on reviewing, rating and rewarding their employees’ past and current performance. But even the best employee in the past and present may not be the best leader for the future. Organizations should identify and develop leadership potential to drive future organizational performance. 

Potential is not easy to define or measure. It is often seen as an intangible that separates a good employee from your next visionary, extraordinary leader. But potential should and can be assessed. Brandon Hall Group believes potential should be assessed in three ways.

Assessing Employee Potential 


Ability includes performance, which demonstrates at least some — but not necessarily all — of a person’s capacity. The employee may have other capabilities that are not apparent in job performance but might be a great fit for another role. For example, someone may have high emotional intelligence that you have not assessed for or that is not easily demonstrated in the person’s current role. Or someone may have experiences or education that could be leveraged in another role. All organizations have employees with hidden abilities that can be discovered. 


Aspiration is important because it helps determine whether the person’s interests and objectives align with the organization’s needs. Employees’ career ambitions are important to understand, but their aspirations outside of work are also important because they could impact their career goals and their level of engagement. 

Fully understanding aspiration requires managers to build trust with their employees and have ongoing conversations about what they want. Failure to understand aspirations can lead to identifying and developing people for responsibilities they don’t really want, which can lead to turnover and poor engagement, subpar performance and eventually turnover. 


Whether someone is great at their current job or only good or average, engagement is an important indicator of potential. For example, high-potentials must have an appetite to tackle challenges and high-pressure situations, contribute beyond their specific job roles, collaborate well with others, be curious and take the initiative to drive change and innovation. 

Prioritize Career Development and Succession Planning 

Leader development is a journey that requires a variety of experiences, collaboration, coaching and mentoring. Many organizations still do most leadership training in classrooms, with varying degrees of reinforcement. And too often there is no Individual Development Plan or it is not regularly reviewed and updated to account for evolving career goals and changes in someone’s personal life. 

Employers must also improve succession planning so it serves as a continuous process to assess candidates for immediate, short-term, midterm and long-term promotion. It should consider each person’s evolving performance, interests, aspirations and engagement. 

Give High-Potentials Opportunities to Practice and Demonstrate Their Agility 

Leading organizations increasingly understand that they cannot expect leaders — at any level – to be effective without opportunities to practice and prepare for a new experience. 

Therefore, leader development should focus on experiences. This can include team projects, stretch assignments and experiential learning that includes peer-to-peer learning. 

An emerging tool is online simulations, which can bridge the knowing-doing gap that many high-potential leaders possess. They may have learned what to do but need help in applying the new skills and behaviors before they forget them. 

Online simulations provide a safe environment for leaders to apply leadership and management skills in specific situations they may encounter in the future. And that is exactly what 85% of organizations believe needs improvement in leader training: a focus on practical skills needed for future roles.

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Mike Cooke



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Mike Cooke

Chief Executive Officer of Brandon Hall Group Mike Cooke Prior to joining Brandon Hall Group, Mike Cooke was the Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of AC Growth. Mike held leadership and executive positions for the majority of his career, at which he was responsible for steering sales and marketing teams to drive results and profitability. His background includes more than 15 years of experience in sales, marketing, management, and operations in the research, consulting, software and technology industries. Mike has extensive experience in sales, marketing and management having worked for several early high-growth emerging businesses and has implemented technology systems to support various critical sales, finance, marketing and client service functions. He is especially skilled in organizing the sales and service strategy to fully support a company’s growth strategy. The concept of growth was an absolute to Mike and a motivator in starting AC Growth, in order to help organizations achieve research driven results. Most recently, Mike was the VP and General Manager of Field Operations at Bersin & Associates, a global analyst and consulting services firm focused on all areas of enterprise learning, talent management and talent acquisition. Tasked with leading the company’s global expansion, Mike led all sales operations worldwide. During Mike’s tenure, the company has grown into a multi-national firm, conducting business in over 45 countries with over 4,500 multi-national organizations. Mike started his career at MicroVideo Learning Systems in 1992, eventually holding a senior management position and leading all corporate sales before founding Dynamic Minds. Mike was CEO and Co-Founder of Dynamic Minds, a custom developer of software programs, working with clients like Goldman Sachs, Prentice Hall, McGraw Hill and Merrill Lynch. Also, Mike worked for Oddcast, a leading provider of customer experience and marketing solutions, where he held a senior management position leading the company into new markets across various industries. Mike also serves on the Advisory Board for Carbon Solutions America, an independent sustainability consulting and carbon management firm that specializes in the design and implementation of greenhouse reduction and sustainability plans as well as managing the generation of carbon and renewal energy and energy efficiency credits. Mike attended University of Phoenix, studying Business Administration and Finance. He has also completed executive training at the Chicago Graduate School of Business in Chicago, IL.

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