Maintaining a system of progression within a company gives more peace of mind to both employees and managers. So, it is important to establish a process to identify high potentials in a systematic way. There are many ways to create this process, but there are certain qualities that should be part of the process. Not only does knowing this system exist encourage employees to be at their best because they know that opportunities for advancement are available, but it also helps managers retain talent and future leaders.

It is important, however, to differentiate between high performers and high potentials. You can identify your high performers by how they are measured against their current job: whether they exceed expectations, they excel at projects, and they are consistently measured at over 100% of the objectives set for them. High potentials, however, are measured by the yardstick of something other than their current role: they are considered in terms of how well they can handle the responsibilities of a position higher than theirs.

Several methods can be used to identify high potentials.

1. Evaluating core behaviors

According to research performed at Cornell University, many core behaviors and mindsets set high potentials apart from those who do their best where they already are. High potentials tend to be ambitious, putting their work ethic first and their desire to relax later, but that doesn’t mean they’re robotic high-achieving workers—they build strong connections with their team members and can be trusted to do the right thing while making the company look good. They can consider several points of view and analyze their own behavior for places to improve, and are effective communicators and good listeners. All this comes together with one very important trait—the courage to forge ahead, make decisions, and take appropriate risks.

2. Measuring 360° assessment factors

The 360° assessment, which collects anonymous feedback for a leader from managers, business partners, peers, and subordinates, is of use not only when evaluating someone for possibly being a high potential, but also evaluating their response to constructive criticism: do they take it personally and have difficulty hearing it, or do they cheerfully embrace concrete areas that they discover need improvement? 360° assessments results can be useful in understanding thinking styles, interpersonal styles, leadership orientation, work orientation, and personal preferences and perspectives. This information can then be used in selecting the best candidates for leadership development and executive coaching.

3. Considering practical factors and concrete skills

Mentorship, job rotation, and executive coaching are all good ways to further develop the skills an employee was hired for, but how do you decide who has a honed skill and who is a high potential fit for future leadership? A white paper by PeopleTalent Solutions provides some very good questions to consider when looking at practical factors and skills in identifying and developing a high potential:

  • What is the company’s strategy?
  • What positions will be critical in the future?
  • What type of people do we want in these positions?
  • What experience/knowledge will they need?

In short, don’t look at the status of your company today and figure out what skills an employee has that can help them go further, look your company’s strategic plan and what talent it will need one, five, or ten years down the road. Will there still be a place for the high performers you see in the office, or will there be a greater need for other type of skills due to the direction your company is planning to go?

Don’t wait for the leadership needs of the future to arrive in your company; start preparing to meet those needs now, by identifying and developing the people who will best answer those needs.

Ask yourself this: How would you rate your ability to systematically identify high potentials in your organization on a scale of 1-10?