War for talent is re-surfacing
As the war for talent once again begins to build momentum, and promises of economic recovery free up organisations to plan their future strategy for success, the ability to accurately identify and then retain the next generation of talent is as hot a topic as you can find.
It all starts with the realisation that your organisation cannot and will not achieve its strategic goals without the right people. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that having a talent management strategy may not guarantee you 100% success in achieving your goals, but not having one guarantees you 100% success in failing to realise them.
It seems as if there is widespread need to believe that there is a magical 'set' of generic qualities for identifying high potentials. The list of qualities high potentials are endowed with seems endless, and, in some cases even contradictory. But what if there is no such magical success formula?
How can talent be identified? Magic formula?
There's common belief that the set of competencies used to identify talent remains constant over time. What if high potentials, like white knights, have to learn how to ride their horses and handle their swords? Even intuitively, it seems absurd to assume that a 25-year old has the same knowledge, skills and attitudes as a 45-year old. To benchmark a young high potential against successfully acknowledged talent is a bad way to identify potential. In line with this reasoning, identification criteria should shift according to age and organisations should see high potentials for what they are: high performing employees with the potential, in time, to grow.
Finding the x-factor
Organisations should start spotting high potentials based on the following basic criteria: learning ability (LQ), emotional (EQ) and intellectual intelligence (IQ) and attitude (A), or the 'x factor'; something that makes them stand out – such as drive, resilience and ambition.
In-depth interviews with high potentials in various age categories show that on their way to the top, they go through a number of 'phases of transition'. Each step on the career ladder requires the high potential to develop a new set of competencies and each phase of transition assumes a leap in responsibility and autonomy.
Once high potentials have mastered a certain job or competency level, they will go in search of ways to raise the bar by looking for new challenges, either within the organisation, or outside.
The difference between performance & potential
If there is one element that is decisive in making a distinction between high potentials and other employees, it has to be the exceptional speed at which they are able to develop the knowledge and skills needed to assume new responsibilities. One should not benchmark a 25-year old to a 45-year old, but to a 'norm' of what is expected of someone given his age or work experience.
Keeping high potentials and high performers separate is key, yet traditional performance assessments make it impossible to distinguish between these two groups. All too often, the identification of high potentials is based on 'the now' – who is hitting target? Even gut feel still plays an alarmingly important role in the process of identifying talent. In addition, politically it is simpler and less sensitive to put employees on a list of high potentials based on their exceptional performance rather than their latent potential.
Important to look beyond the 'here and now'
But if organisations only have eyes for the current performance of employees, they could be in for some unpleasant surprises when the high performer is promoted to a higher level of responsibility. Studies show that almost all high potentials (93%) are also high performers: performances seem to be a must for high potentials to be perceived and identified as such. But the same studies also show that only 29% of the high performers were also high potentials. This suggests there is real danger of terminology confusion regarding high potentials, causing strong performers without growth potential to dilute the pool of high potentials.
Key: a flexible strategy to identify talent
Additionally, high performers who are incorrectly identified as high potentials may be asked to operate at a level that they are not capable of, and possible suffer from the negative effects of failure, through no fault of their own.
There are a myriad of 'off the shelf' tools that organisations can use to assess high potentials; however the key to success is flexibility. No two organisations have the same strategy, the same challenges, or the same needs from their people.
Experts who can deploy a range of tools that are tailored to be flexible and moulded to an organisations very specific situation and context will give them a far greater chance of success. Whatever the outcome, organisations who engage in talent identification programmes will create the success stories of tomorrow, and leave a long standing legacy for years to come.