Did you know that only 16% of high performers have high potential attributes? High performance does not equal high potential. Yet, so many employees are elevated to higher positions of responsibility solely on performance.

The practice of high potential identification ensures that you are developing the right people who will grow with your company. And the process will help you to avoid the mistake so many leaders make: setting up a high performer up for failure. So, what makes a high potential?

There are three attributes that a person needs to be a high potential: Desire, Capability, and Engagement. And you need to assess each of these attributes before making the decision to promote a high performer.

Desire- does the person want to take on greater responsibilities? Capability- does the person have the competencies required for success in more challenging roles with more senior responsibilities?

Engagement-will the employee commit to remaining in new challenging roles?


The best way to assess the level of motivation and desire a person has is through conversation and observation.

Start with a career conversation to understand an employee’s goals for advancement. You may be surprised that the employee is perfectly happy where they are at this point in time.

An employee may believe that they want to take on greater responsibilities, but are their actions matching their desire? From my experience there are five (5) attributes that a high potential will display that demonstrates desire:

  1. Curiosity-they search out roles and projects that provide a challenge and an opportunity to learn
  2. Autonomy-they enjoy roles where they are allowed to determine how they execute their responsibilities
  3. Energy-they desire multi-tasking and fast work environments
  4. Resilience-they desire change and are determined to be successful during change
  5. Power-they look for opportunities to influence decisions as well as other’s actions

In addition to these attributes there are four key behaviors that contribute to desire:

  1. Taking initiative
  2. Being accountable
  3. Getting results
  4. Self-developing


There are four (4) major categories of leadership competencies which need to be assessed to determine an employee’s level of capability.

Personal-inspiring trust, learning mindset, self-direction, adaptable and flexible, building relationships, confidence, and Emotional Intelligence

Results– manage change, manage and improve processes, shaping strategy, driving execution, focus on customers, crisis management, build plans, and risk taking

People-actively listen, manage conflict, speak with impact, foster open communication, influence, coach and mentor, attract and build talent, delegate and empower others, influence, teams

Thought– analyze issues and results, make good decisions, financial knowledge, act strategically, cross functional knowledge, industry knowledge, leverage innovation

Assessing these competencies requires you to understand what your specific leadership competencies in your company are and then measure your talent pool against these competencies with a 360 assessment, and as part of your performance measurement process.


The process of measuring an employee’s engagement is important. You will be investing in your high potentials and knowing your high potentials are committed to staying with your company for a significant period of time will be critical.

There are two types of engagement to be assessed: current and future.

Current engagement

Employee engagement is driven by an employee’s past and current experiences with the company. A critical component is the relationship they have with their current manager.

Future Engagement

As a company you have a significant impact on a high potential’s future engagement. Here are three things you can do to engage your high potentials:

  1. Challenge them with stretch assignments
  2. Mange them at the executive level to give them exposure and recognition for their talent
  3. Recognize them with different types of rewards, compensation, and recognition.

If done correctly you will provide your high potentials with the desire to commit, long-term, to your organization.

As you can see, unlike measuring performance, predicting future potential is not easy and not fool proof. But taking the time to do the assessment up front will help you to not only identify high potentials in your talent pool, it will identify areas they should be trained and developed to support their future success.

Visit our resource page for High Potential Resources under the Succession Planning section.