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How to measure high potential in your employees

When you look for high potential in your organisation, you need to answer the question: potential for what? David Conradie, executive head of the Top Talent Solutions, says that when you're recruiting for high-potential talent in your organisation you need to ask yourself what role the particular person will perform in the organisation. If you don't know this, you won't know what specific skills to look for. However, once you've identified the need for a high potential in your organisation, you need to know how you would measure an individual's ability for this attribute.

There are a number of approaches to measuring high potential. In 2009, Silzer and Church looked at this need for measurement and developed seven categories of criteria that one can use to measure high potential. Some of these criteria are the following:

1. Cognitive skills

Cognitive skills, says Conradie, consist of conceptual strategic thinking, breadth of thinking, intellect, cognitive ability and dealing with complexity and ambiguity.

"This is a fairly standard component of any method used to identify potential to move into more significant roles. If the person doesn't have the intellectual capability or 'horsepower', this may be a gross disqualifier in terms of their eligibility for a high-potential programme," says Conradie.

2. Personality variables

Personality variables consist of interpersonal skills, sociability, maturity, stability and resilience.

3. Learning variables

"One of the key expectations of someone in a high-potential programme is that they will be receptive to learning," says Conradie. "This includes adaptability, flexibility, learning orientation and interest in learning.

"The last one is very important because most people - who I've encountered personally and have been designated as a high potential - haven't, unfortunately, had the implication of this explained to them. Consequently, they tend to be slightly arrogant – especially those who have carried the label of 'high potential' over a number of years."

The challenge with these 'slightly arrogant' high potentials is that they "think that they know everything" and, as a result, you can't teach them anything.

Conradie advises that when you look for high potentials make sure that the people you choose are open to feedback.

4. Leadership skills

5. Motivation variables

Motivation variables include drive, energy, engagement, tenacity, aspiration for advancement, results-orientation propensity for risk taking and performance records.

6. Other variables

"In this category, we look at specialised/specialist predictors or qualifiers," says Conradie. "This talks to the concept of technical potential. This means we can become more focused here on what those key criteria [that determine high potential] might be."

One thing that you do need to consider when you put together a high potential programme for your organisation is that if you're going to drive it effectively, you're going to need to invest time, resources and finances to the project. "This means that you have to be 100% sure that the people you're going to be investing in will give you the highest return on investment," concludes Conradie.