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Posted by James Newman on December 31, 2016.
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According to a study by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB), as many as 25% of high-potential employees plan on leaving their jobs within a year. Many organizations make the mistake of only looking at ability when assessing an employee’s potential for managing a job.

When trying to identify a high-potential (or HiPo) employee, it is important to not confuse performance—or productivity—for aptitude. Misidentifying a HiPo can be costly. For example, you have a top-selling sales rep, and decide to promote them to a managerial position. It would make sense, right? However, if that sales rep doesn’t have the aptitude, aspiration, or overall potential, they will fail in their new position. What’s worse, the HiPo that you overlooked will feel snubbed, and may leave in search of an organization that offers more opportunities for advancement.

The reason high performers (as opposed to high potentials) fail typically falls within one of these three categories: leadership behaviors, aspiration, and engagement. Aspiration entails whether the candidate really wants the position, and is willing to make the sacrifices it requires. Engagement involves the employee’s commitment to the company and its mission. When considering an employee’s potential for success in a certain job, many organizations neglect to ask, “Does he or she really want to do this?”

Pinpointing the characteristics of a HiPo can be difficult, especially in a young employee. The attributes people develop over time—with training, experience, and progress—are not always apparent from the beginning. Also, many managers have an outdated estimation of what leadership should be—loud, aggressive, and in-your-face —so those who exhibit these qualities are favored for advancement before considering the aptitude they will bring to the position.

Organizations should develop leadership competency models based on a predetermined aggregation of traits and behaviors associated with the success of the company, and evaluate each employee based on how they measure up to that standard. Organizations need to appraise their employees with long-term, future goals in mind, not merely to suit the present, or to fill an open position quickly. Companies should look to the past as well, to compare what made previous people successful – and emulate those strengths, while also noting the shortcomings they had.

Here are the 10 questions you should ask when identifying high-potential employees:

  1. Does this person have a proven track record for accomplishing impressive results, not just meeting expectations?
  2. Does this person take charge and make things happen, or sit back and let things happen before producing?
  3. Does this person inspire confidence in his or her decision making?
  4. Can this person lead through persuasion and influence, and can he or she serve as an effective sounding board to others who are struggling with complex issues?
  5. Do others trust this person to lead projects and teams, even though he or she doesn’t have a leadership title?
  6. Does this person have an understanding of how to separate “what” from “how” with an awareness that establishing the destination before deciding on the mode of transportation is essential?
  7. Are priorities apparent, or does she or he become mired in the details and tactics, all the while keeping a global perspective?
  8. Do obstacles stop this person, or do they represent challenges, not threats?
  9. What success has this person had with multitasking?
  10. How do unexpected changes affect this person’s performance?

Whether it’s repositioning the job of a HiPo, or counteracting the effects of a future skills gap, identifying high potentials with these 10 questions will enable you and your organization to better prepare for future needs.


Author: James Newman

James Newman With decades of experience in manufacturing management, James Newman has felt the profitable excitement from creating a culture of success through staffing with good job-fits/top performers; and has felt the “no-fun” challenge of attending to poor job-fits/performers.


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