How to Identify Employees with High Potential

When it comes time to invest in training or coaching an employee, what are the steps to identify those who have a high potential for development?

“People with high potential are those who need to be stimulated. They are curious and they are hungry to learn,” says Josée Marcotte, CHRP and President of Émergence.

Hence the importance of ‘feeding’ this potential, by first identifying it in the early stages, followed by implementing a coaching or training program and making it available to them.

Fotolia_92305015_XS.jpgTo recognize this potential, the tools are numerous, the councillor explains: annual reviews, behavioural observation, psychometric and cognitive tests.

“All of these approaches are complementary to one another. The tests and evaluations can come validate what have already been observed in the field. The observation remains what is most important. Nothing can replace human judgment. Supervisors and managers are best placed to identify high-potential employees,” she says.

Identify their needs, first

Before it goes hunting for high-potential employees, a company must first identify its own talent needs. What are the critical positions within their organization? What kind of potential is required in the industry?

Seeking employees with management skills or those with strong technical potential requires two distinct approaches.

For a management position, we seek specific personality traits, states Marcotte. “Leadership, managerial courage and a capacity to mobilize employees.” For a specialist position, we look at cognitive abilities and the employee’s learning speed.

Obviously, it is never black and white. “Some management positions require that the manager also have technical credibility, because it is important in that industry,” she explains.

When you have determined the needs of your organization in terms of talent, you can then engage in personnel ‘mapping’: evaluating current employees in light of the criteria.

“No organization should ever end up with more than 20 to 25% of high-potential individuals,” says Josée Marcotte. “The reason is that this potential needs room to grow and develop. There must be opportunities for promotions and greater responsibilities.”

Universal criteria

Among the criteria to be considered, some transcend the desired type of potential. “It is important to reflect on the aspirations of the employee,” says the counsellor. “Are they interested in a development program? Often, it is those with strong potential themselves that have taken the initiative and asked whether there are development programs within the business.”

Another criterion to remember is the commitment within the company. We would not want to train an employee who will go use their new powers at a competitor’s firm. “This is indeed a prerequisite for forming an employee,” states Marcotte.

If this last criterion proves difficult to assess, there are others signs which we can remain attentive to. “The employee’s civility, do they work well in teams, do they take new employees under their wing. These are signs that an employee is committed to the business,” says the counsellor.

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