It’s a well-known maxim that the top 20% of employees are responsible for 80% of organizational output. Further, the top 5% and top 1% of employees account for 25% and 10% of organizational output. Further, hiring top talent pays off as jobs increase in complexity. Identifying top talent in the marketplace is one of the central struggles in business today. Researchers have found, however, that many of this top talent may exist within your own organization. Companies need to improve their methods of identification and development.

The high potential employee is usually defined as someone with the potential to move up two roles in five years. The characteristics and skill sets desired amongst these individuals will vary slightly according to industry and organization. According to HBR some common characteristics can be found among all top performers:

  1. Ability. While knowledge and skill set are important, forecasting potential requires an examination of their capacity to learn, which encompasses IQ or cognitive ability. In addition, creativity, vision, and the motivation to acquire new knowledge or skills is important.
  2. Social skills. Managing yourself and others, developing working relationships, contacts, and alliances. Emotional intelligence covers gray areas such as understanding unspoken rules and reading an audience.
  3. Drive. Will and motivation, as well as work ethic and ambition come into play: “Ability and social skill may be considered talent; but potential is talent multiplied by drive as this will determine how much ability and social skills get put to use.”

Identifying high potentials may be far easier than developing them. Research by the Corporate Executive Board found that while 66% of companies invest in development programs, only 24% of senior executives at those firms consider them a success.

  1. Companies should approach the creation of development programs with a very company-unique focus.
  2. Every company has core competencies required for leadership roles. Articulate what those are in your organization.
  3. Are aspiring leaders curious, insightful, engaged, and determined? Are they a motivational fit for the organization?
  4. Match the core competencies to the qualities described in #2 – this will create a growth map that shows potential.
  5. Provide development opportunities for high potential employees such as job rotations or promotions to roles that might be a little off their skill set.

As companies compete for talent, it’s important to consider what talent potential exists in your organization now.

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