5 Important Strategies for Understanding Employees’ Potential

To understand the potential of employees contributing to the future success of the business, employers focus predominately on reviewing, rating and rewarding their employees’ performance, according to Brandon Hall Group research. But even the best performer may not be the best employee for the future. Organizations must learn the best ways to identify and develop potential. 

Only 5% of organizations believe their performance evaluation processes are an accurate predictor of an individual’s future potential. 

That means the talent whom organizations identify as having high potential may not actually have the potential they need. This is why most organizations say their leadership development programs don’t produce leaders who can deliver business impact. Sure, leadership development can get a lot better — but the flip side is that many people in those programs might not have what it takes to be successful in the organization anyway. 

The irony is that most employers know what they must do to better evaluate employee potential. Their performance review processes are simply not set up to do it. 

How Could You Improve Evaluation of Employees’ Potential? 

The performance-management processes used by most organizations focus on what employees have done, not what they can do. There is a huge disconnect between the importance organizations place on understanding potential and their effectiveness in doing so. 

  • What are the qualities employees and leaders must have to make our organization successful in the post-COVID world? 
  • What must we do differently to understand and develop qualities that are more predictive of future success? 

Managers Discuss These Topics Frequently/Always During Employee Check-ins 

Based on our research study, How Do You Predict Future Performance?, and Brandon Hall Group’s experience advising clients on evaluating potential, here are five important strategies for evaluating and understanding employee potential. 

Assess Engagement. 

No matter how good employees are at their jobs or the skills and experiences they bring, they must be engaged with their work, their teammates and the organization to truly have potential to drive future success. If, for example, a talented employee is more focused on pursuits outside of work or is not exhibiting discretionary effort at work, that person may not have as much potential as someone with perhaps less talent or experience who is focused on the job and exhibits behaviors and values that are important for the organization to succeed. Therefore, engagement is a foundational element of potential. 

Enable Stronger Manager-Employee Relationships. 

Engagement can be measured in many ways, including surveys and focus groups. But the best way is for managers to connect with their employees on a regular basis beyond monitoring daily work. Managers must set goals, discuss progress, understand what motivates (and de-motivates) employees, recognize their contributions and create opportunities for them to continue to grow and develop as people and as employees. Managers who build and maintain relationships with their employees have the best chance to more accurately understand their potential. 

For better manager-employee relationships to develop, organizations need to clearly communicate to managers that building these relationships is a significant part of their jobs, create incentives for improvement and hold them accountable. Accountability must be paired with training and support resources to help managers carry out this responsibility. 

Understand Employees’ Capabilities. 

Understanding capabilities is different than evaluating performance. Employees generally have experiences and capabilities beyond what they leverage for their jobs, especially at the lower levels of an organization. Some capabilities can only be learned by getting to know employees and revealing “hidden” capabilities. Getting a full understanding of the skills and competencies employees have is critical for determining potential. 

Understand Employees’ Aspirations for New Experiences. 

Employees could be great performers, be highly engaged, have many capabilities beyond those used in their jobs, but their desire for new experiences beyond their current roles is critical. A person who is an average or slightly above-average performer, but who is engaged and highly motivated to learn new skills and move into new roles, has more potential than someone with high capability and capacity but does not seek to advance in the organization or have new experiences, such as special projects, coaching or mentoring. 

Learn Whether Employees’ Values Are Aligned with the Organization’s. 

An employee could be the most talented person you have ever run across, but if that person does not believe in the organization’s products, business objectives or corporate values — or even has no strong feelings either way — that person may not have the same potential as someone with great skills, high engagement and strong aspirations who actively supports what the organization stands for.

Additional Resource: Building the Business Case for Modern Performance Management

Performance management was broken long before the COVID-19 pandemic. But the pandemic did what years of prior advocacy for performance management reinvention could not: change the focus from annual evaluations to manager-employee interactions. The top focuses now and in the next one to two years, according to Brandon Hall Group’s Performance Management Study, are the frequency and quality of manager-employee check-ins, linking competency and skills to the performance management process, and goal-setting. While the focus on performance management has changed, most organizations still have work to do. This Business Builder serves as a blueprint for building the business case for change in performance management.

Download the Business Builder Now!


Brandon Hall Group Strategy Briefs answer the critical questions learning, talent, HR and business leaders must address to manage their human capital. To tackle these critical questions in more detail, we built tools, frameworks, research summaries and business builders based on up-to-date research and case studies for you to implement best and next Human Capital Management (HCM) practices. To gain access to these valuable resources, contact [email protected].

Leading minds in HCM choose Brandon Hall Group to help them build future-proof employee-development plans for the new era. For more than 27 years, we have empowered, recognized and certified excellence in organizations around the world, influencing the development of over 10,000,000 associates and executives.

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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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