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Principles of Identifying High Potential Talent

As organizations seek to win the war for talent it is important that they develop a criteria that will guide them in identifying high potential talent. A high potential employee refers to an individual who has the capacity to hold a leadership position at an organization. Once a high potential employee has been identified, the appropriate opportunities to develop can be accorded to him or her in preparation for their role as leaders in the organization. According to a report in the Harvard Business review,  high potential employees possess the following characteristics:


  • They are passionate about excelling in their respective fields
  • They have an accelerated ability to learn and assimilate new concepts.
  • They have heightened sensors hence they can quickly assess their environment and take calculated risks.
  • They have an enterprising spirit.

High potential employees have the capacity to lead the organization to the next level by building trust, confidence and improving the performance of an organization. However, most organizations miss out on the opportunity to reap the benefits of having high potential employees because they lack systematic and formal processes that will enable them to identify high potential employees. By developing systematic approaches, organizations can arrest the notion that high potential employees are underutilized in most organizations. Arresting this dangerous notion curbs low employee morale and high turnover rates. Any organization seeking to develop a formal criteria for the identification of high potential talent ought to consider the following principles:


Principle I: Plan for the future

There is a popular adage that states that failing to plan is planning to fail. The HR department in any organization needs to anticipate the hard-to- fill leadership positions that may arise in the organization in the future and the strategic needs of the organization. The identification of these needs should be followed by prioritization and the definition of the roles that come with each positions. The requirements that need to be met in order to meet the human capital needs should be spelt out. In some cases, the internal talent pool needs to be mentored in preparation for the upcoming roles. In other instances, the organization may need to recruit talent from outside the organization.

Principle II: Definition of high potential criteria

According to PDI Ninth House, organizations need to define high potential criteria. A review of literature and case studies enables the organization to define terms such as performance, fitness, readiness and potential. The high potential criteria for specific positions within an organization ought to be spelt out in the process. The high potential program should be updated regularly in line with the needs of the organization. A feedback loop can be created to allow high potential employees to give their feedback. Once this has been done, the organization can create a learning program for high potential employees to foster learning.

Principle III: Make the high potential criteria measurable

Creation of metrics for the high potential criteria makes it easier for the management to determine the suitability of a candidate since it minimizes biases. Assessment tools that can be used in this process include:  Personal Development Analysis (PDA) and talent measurement tools such as SHL Talent Measurement.

Principle IV: Identify high potential

High potential employees can be identified once the organization has set a measurable criteria for high potential employees. There is often confusion between potential and readiness in course of identifying high potential employees. Readiness is an indication of whether the candidate can step into a given assignment or role. Potential refers to whether a candidate has the right motivation and focus on organizational goals. The confusion between readiness and potential can be eliminated in the course of making high potential criteria a measurable attribute.

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