TALENT AND POTENTIAL
There are several definitions of talent and potential but, as I see it, talent is the ability to engage successfully in an assigned role, meeting all responsibilities and delivering above-average performance using an agreed-upon measurement system. Potential indicates whether someone will likely succeed in a larger role, and whether he or she will be able to grow and handle job responsibilities of greater scope and scale.
Knowing what these traits are and measuring them are two different things. Assessing your staff's potential is quite difficult. Most managers, including planners, are lousy at predicting future potential accurately. But some experts have figured it out.
MAKING AN ASSESSMENT
The Harvard Business School, in conjunction with executive search firm Egon Zehnder International, have identified activities that can help select and develop high potential talent. The process of selecting those with high potential starts with a basic framework consists of five elements:
* Knowledge - what a person knows.
* Skills - what a person can do.
* Senior manager/executive identity - a person emotionally accepts the costs of the management position, seeing himself or herself as a senior manager/executive.
* Leadership assets - a person derives insight, engages others, demonstrates resolve and seeks understanding.
* Motives - a person desires to have an impact on others.
These elements range from highly teachable (knowledge), to difficult to change (motives). At the core are a person's motives, which predict long-term patterns of behavior. Motives tend to be stable and are highly related to what energizes an individual.
For example, does a person demonstrate a passion for a company's success over personal reward? Does he or she enjoy seeing others succeed? Harvard Business School research on social motives has shown the desire for socializing influence - having a positive impact on others for the good of the organization - is a key predictor of senior management/executive potential.
At the next level are leadership assets. These are four key abilities that predict how far and fast a professional can rise within an organization.
A high potential individual can derive insight by making sense of a vast amount of information, and develop and apply new ideas that change old ways of doing things or introduce entirely new ways to operate. This individual effectively engages others logically and emotionally, and is a highly persuasive communicator. He or she demonstrates resolve by driving toward a goal in spite of challenges. This high potential person also seeks understanding by constantly looking for new ideas, knowledge and experiences; asks for feedback; and adjusts his or her behavior accordingly.
Next comes self-identity, how a person sees himself or herself on stage. For high potentials, this means seeing themselves as senior managers or executives, but not just for fame and glory. Rather, they want to develop a team and make things happen. Alternatively, some people may be motivated by their own contribution and don't care about leading companywide change. These people are not high potentials.
High potential attributes are difficult to teach or change in a person. It's easier to find a person with these traits than to try to train someone to have them. You may be wondering whether you can assess your staff using a personality test. The answer is yes and no.
By themselves, personality profile tests are poor predictors of high potential. State-of-the-art evaluation comes from a combination of workplace assessments by supervisors in which an employee has shown exceptional performance in a variety of tasks, combined with periodic assessments by outside professional firms. Our firm retains an industrial psychologist to help coach and assess a number of our professionals, and helps us to determine who may have a high potential for greater responsibility in the future.
To make sure your high potential employees evolve into leaders, a combination of mentoring, outside coaching, formal education and varied job experience is necessary. Remember, it's very hard to change underlying motives or traits, but the more pronounced your program is, the higher your retention and success will be with your high potential employees.