Leadership Solutions from Read Solutions Group: How do I identify high-potential candidates?

Monday, January 07, 2008

How do I identify high-potential candidates?

A writer asks,
Sherry, in your article "Developing High Potential Employees", you give a definition of high-potential employee. The problem is that I still don't know how to help my manager's consistently identify who is high-potential and who isn't. What do you suggest?
A High-Potential HR Manager
Well, dear High-Potential HR Manager, I get this question frequently, and always from people like you who are high-potential. The only question is whether they are high-potential in their company.

What you say? The question is whether they are high-potential in their company? Isn't the question whether someone is high-potential or not?

One former boss of mine convinced me of very little, apart from the truth that everyone is a star in some universe; or to put it more plainly, everyone is high-potential for the right role in the right company. Unfortunately, you might suggest that this doesn't help you answer the question. Ah, but it's a start.

The definition I posted in the article you mentioned, says,
What is a high-potential employee? A generic definition is an individual expected to excel at a position X levels above their current role. Companies often make this more specific to their needs, incorporating a specific leadership level, within a particular time horizon, and most importantly, based on the foreseeable needs of the business. High potential employees demonstrate capabilities in the functional requirements of the business and their specific roles (can do), the personal motivation and drive to excel now and in the future (will do), and the behaviors that ongoing delivery of results (how do).
The tricky thing is deciding what your company needs now, and in the future. And then being even more realistic about whether you need those skills, aptitudes, motivations and experience for all senior level positions, or only specific ones. The reality of most organizations is that you need to be developing a talent pipeline that will fill a wide range of roles across differing functions. While you want your heads of R&D, Finance, H&R and the Business Units to all fill comfortable in the same function, the behaviors, motivations and drivers across the functions may be quite different. Your business strategy may be heavily dependent on technological innovation. So you certainly need innovative, creative people in key functions of the organization; but I wonder whether you need that for your, say, heads of Supply Chain or Finance? Or you could have a business strategy with a key focus staying one step ahead of the competitors. Strategic marketing is a key organizational skill; but again, is it critical for all areas of the organization?

So where am I going with this? Be clear on the few cultural competencies that you require of all of your senior management. And then do a reality check, do you have that now?!? Next, look at individuals who are normally high-performers. Could strengths, motivations, and behaviors lead them, with the right experiences, to be a star in some portion of your company's universe? If so, talk with them. Build an agreement about the experiences and development that will enable that person to flourish. You may find that you have more high-potential candidates than you thought.

Looking forward to more questions that I can answer. Send them to me at Sherry@ReadSolutionsGroup.com.

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