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The Science on Identifying High-Potential Employees

The top 20% of talent are responsible for upward of 80% of organizational output, and the mere presence of a star performer on a team increases the productivity of teammates. That means identifying employees with high potential in your business must be a major priority. But what should you be looking out for? In an article for Harvard Business Review, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Seymour Adler, and Robert B. Kaiser break down the areas where you should be focusing.

Pointing Out Potential

As the authors explain, the challenge of identifying “high-potential” employees is that it is unclear what that potential is supposed to be for. Most businesses never specify. So the authors say you should look for employees who have high potential to drive organizational performance–an ability to have a positive influence on team performance. With this conception of high potential in mind, the authors share three straightforward things to look out for in identifying it:

  • Ability
  • Social skills
  • Drive

Ability is how well employees can complete the tasks assigned to them. Work sample tests can be good indicators for a job itself, but a different kind of test is required to check for more complex positions in the future. In this case, you’d want to measure how quickly these employees can develop mastery and acquire new skills. Essentially, you’re measuring their intellectual capacity for learning new things and solving problems.

Social skills are equally important. Relationship issues between coworkers can cause major issues to a project, so your high-potential employees need to be able to properly navigate social situations. The authors give some social skills that a high-potential employee should have:

Employees likely to succeed in bigger, more complex jobs are first able to manage themselves — to handle increased pressure, deal constructively with adversity, and act with dignity and integrity. Secondly, they are able to establish and maintain cooperative working relationships, build a broad network of contacts and form alliances, and be influential and persuasive with a range of different stakeholders. And for senior roles, they have to be able to develop sophisticated political skills — the ability to read an audience, decode the unspoken rules, and find solutions that satisfy the often competing interests of key power brokers…So an early indicator of high potential is emotional intelligence, which can be assessed by psychometric tests and further refined through training and development.

The final trait is drive, which is the employee’s willingness to work hard and sacrifice in order to succeed. Drive multiplies the effectiveness of ability and social skills. Ambition, conscientiousness, and a general eagerness to take on more challenges are great indications that drive is present.

For further thoughts, you can view the original article here: https://hbr.org/2017/10/what-science-says-about-identifying-high-potential-employees

About Austin J. Gruver

Austin is a Staff Writer for AITS. He has a background in professional writing from York College.

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2 comments

  1. How can social skills and drive be determined in a pre-employment screening? The article does not address this.

    • Good question, Mr. or Ms. Techmeister. Well, as the quotation indicates, psychometric tests may be used as a starting point in identifying emotional intelligence, which in turn is a fairly good indirect measure of social skills. As for measuring drive, the Harvard authors recommend building standardized tests for conscientiousness, achievement motivation, and ambition. Many HR departments do this or subscribe to services that provide such testing.

      Personally, I think there are some elements to personality that just aren’t going to be easily quantified in a pre-interview test, which is why it is important that interviewers themselves have strong emotional intelligence. It’s a “takes one to know one” sort of scenario, to an extent.

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