How to Uncover High-Potential Talent

Current State

Almost all organizations believe they must improve high-potential development in the next one to two years, according to Brandon Hall Group’s research study, Developing Your High-Potential Talent.

Employers are in drastic need of more inclusive and collaborative leaders who can drive business results and help develop and retain top talent. It is critical to identify and develop high-potential employees to be future leaders. Knowing that work is evolving at a faster rate than ever, this process must be revisited at the start of every cycle to ensure criteria are reflective of changes that have happened or are happening in the organization.

There has been some movement toward more objective processes for identifying high potential candidates, however many companies still remain loyal to the path of least resistance rather than a strategic approach.

Complexities

A majority of organizations opt not to formally identify high-potentials even though most organizations believe formal identification has significant benefits:

Some respondents did see problems with formally identifying high-potential talent, but the percentages are significantly lower.

Whether high-potentials are identified formally or informally, far more organizations use highly subjective factors such as leader nominations and recommendations and performance evaluations rather than assessments, demonstrated capabilities and employees’ stated aspirations and demonstrated levels of engagement.

Consequences

The research shows that transparency, more open feedback and greater involvement and modeling from senior executives are key to improvement.

Critical Questions

  1. How can we make our processes as thorough and objective as possible?
  2. How do we build a talent pipeline that represents the diversity of our workforce and customer base?

Brandon Hall GroupPOV

Here are essential strategies to better uncover high-potential talent.

Clarity and Alignment

The organization must be on the same page when it comes to defining, identifying and setting expectations for both current and future leaders. While some progress appears to have been made, there is opportunity to do more. The best programs will be aligned all the way from the C-Suite. There is a difference between segmenting the audience for various programs and having a unifying model of leadership. You must start with the latter.

Commit to Increasing the Diversity of the Talent Pipeline

Employers must fully commit to having a pipeline of diverse talent so they have future leaders who can be representative of an increasingly diverse workforce. That is not happening now: almost 60% of organizations say the diversity of their talent pipeline needs improvement or great improvement, and 60% also say their high-potential identification and development processes are biased.

Organizations must stop talking about diversity, equity and inclusion and act. The current and future workforces are the most diverse in history, not only in terms of demographic categories but also in their experience, education and opinions. It’s well-documented that diversity and inclusion drive innovation, which businesses must rely on to survive and thrive in an uncertain future.

82% of organizations indicate they are planning to improve their leadership development program over the next 12 months but increasing the diversity of the leadership pipeline continues to rank low in priority.

Commit to Formally Identifying High-Potentials

Employers must fully commit to having a pipeline of diverse talent so they have future leaders who can be representative of an increasingly diverse workforce. That is not happening now: almost 60% of organizations say the diversity of their talent pipeline needs improvement or great improvement, and 60% also say their high-potential identification and development processes are biased.

How serious can organizations be about developing high-potentials when more than half won’t even go on record identifying them and being transparent about what being a high-potential means and how they will be evaluated?

The majority of employers (62%) identify less than 10% of their workforce as high-potentials. Certainly, they can formally commit to providing opportunities for development that can help these elite prospects realize their potential — for themselves and the organization. Making a formal commitment to high-potentials can positively impact engagement and talent retention, which are two of the top challenges organizations face.

Commit to Deeper Assessment of Potential

When investing time and energy in identifying team members with the highest potential to succeed in higher levels of responsibility, performance measures must be kept on equal footing with other known predictors of leadership success, such as learning agility, the ability to handle ambiguous situations and critical thinking and decision-making.

While no process is perfect, Brandon Hall Groupresearch shows that using this three-pronged model is a more objective and thorough way of evaluating potential.

How Employers Should Assess Employee Potential

Capability/Ability

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 ob 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.

Aspiration

Aspiration is important because it helps determine whether the person’s interests and objectives aligned with the organization’s needs. Employee’s 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.

Engagement

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 initiatives to change and innovation.

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Matt Pittman

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Matt Pittman

Matt Pittman brings nearly 30 years of experience developing people and teams in a variety of settings and organizations. As an HR Practitioner, he has sat in nearly every seat including Learning and Leadership Development, Talent Management and Succession Planning, Talent Acquisition and as a Human Resources Business Partner. A significant part of those roles involved building out functions in organizations and driving large scale change efforts. As a Principal Analyst, Matt leverages this in-depth experience and expertise to provide clients and providers with breakthrough insights and ideas to drive their business forward.

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