Can you spot high potential?- Part 1

Posted on May 07, 2013 at 10:34 AM

In many organisations, the HR team is able to identify those with high potential – and knows how to develop this. But for some organisations, spotting high potential can be a tricky business – and especially so for line managers as traditional career paths no longer, if they ever, necessarily enable the leaders of the future to rise to the top.

At Head Light, we see that two of the main challenges which impact the identification of potential are:

• Projection
• Detection

Let us explain.

To find the future stars of the organisation, line managers need to identify and understand what the early markers of High Potential (HiPo) are. That is, what are the behavioural precursors of superior performance in more complex or more senior roles? This involves a bit of projection and extrapolation. Often these precursors or indicators are identified by carrying out biographical career interviews with current high performers and looking back at what set them apart at an early stage in their career. A crystal ball would be helpful though...

Once you know what you’re looking for, then you have to assess for it and find ways to detect it. Traditionally this has been done by gut feel (“I know it when I see it!”), line manager evaluation or performance appraisal. The main difficulty of these approaches is that they all rely on the view of one individual (and it is usually the line manager) and they are typically based on an assessment of performance in the current role, and that may not afford the individual the opportunity to demonstrate broader capability or potential.

Evaluations that are reliant on one perspective are, of course, also subject to a number of cognitive biases, which are naturally very hard to manage or mitigate against:  The Horns Effect; The ‘Face Fits’ bias.

In addition to these biases, if the manager-subordinate relationship is not a happy one, this may well affect judgement regarding current performance and future potential.

So what's to be done?

Psychology and technology have offered us a wide range of means by which we can more robustly and reliably assess potential – although access to these is not always at a line manager level.  Assessment centres are often used to test for future potential - as are some psychometric tests. More recently, we see the emergence of 360 degree feedback as a means for picking up those HiPo markers but if course this can only be used with those already within the organisation.

But it does make sense to embed the means to ‘assess’ the potential for bigger and more complex roles into current talent management and HR practices so if you and your line managers are already using 360 review as one of one of the processes which help you to manage talent within the business, with only a slight adaptation, it could used to look for ‘high potential’ thereby providing more information and keeping costs to a minimum.

Read more in Part 2 of this blog post.


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