How to identify potential

Written by
Changeboard Team

22 Oct 2014

22 Oct 2014 • by Changeboard Team

How do you assess talent?

The competency analysis model arrived 20 years ago as a tool for assessing talent. It evaluated candidates based on a prescribed set of skills or characteristics that would help predict their success in a particular role. Now, it has become a commodity.

What makes someone effective in a particular role today might not do so tomorrow, since we cannot change the VUCA world that surrounds us. So it’s time to consider whether your workforce – and particularly your leaders – has the potential to learn new skills to help them navigate through this new world.

While competencies are easy to identify, it is much more difficult to quantify potential. This is compounded by the fact that most organisations do not have any substantive methods of assessing it. Often, organisations consider ‘high performer’ programmes to be ‘high potential’ ones, but in reality they comprise people who have performed well in past situations – on the assumption they will perform well in the future.

Often, when transitioning to a new role, people try to keep working in the same way they always have, assuming that if they keep working hard things will be all right. However, sometimes, the challenges are just too different from anything they’ve encountered before, or they require a different approach or skill set – particularly given the new VUCA environment.

Markers of potential

When it comes to assessing talent, particularly at senior level, a focus on potential can help you differentiate between individuals. If you have three candidates who don’t differ on competency, a good starting point is to look deeper at underlying character traits – starting with motivation. This translates as a solid determination to excel while pursuing selfless goals. Those with high potential are ambitious and want to leave a legacy, but they also aspire to shared goals, demonstrate profound humility and strive to improve on everything they do. Motivation is a stable – and usually unconscious – quality, so if someone is driven purely by selfish motives, that probably won’t change.

Another character trait to look at is curiosity: the ability to go beyond competency, pick up information and ideas and connect the dots, and have an openness to learning and change. Next, there is engagement, the ability to connect your vision to a diverse group of stakeholders; resilience, the ability to get up after a knock back; and insight, the ability to gather information that suggests new possibilities.

By understanding how your senior candidates gain energy through these character traits, you can better predict whether they are suited to the specific role in question.

Conduct in-depth career conversations

At interview stage, have detailed career discussions with external and internal candidates to find out whether they have potential. Rather than simply asking: “Are you curious?”, by holding an in-depth career conversation you can look for signs that the person believes in self-improvement, enjoys learning and is able to recalibrate after mistakes. Consider asking the following questions, ensuring the candidate gives examples:

  • How do you react when someone challenges you?
  • How do you invite input from others on your team?
  • How do you foster learning in your team/organisation?
  • How do you seek out the unknown?
  • What do you do to broaden your own thinking, experience or personal development? 

Creating the ecosystem for success

Once you have hired someone into a role, it’s essential to create the right ecosystem for them to develop and grow. However, very few organisations get this right.

We are living in a world where talent is scarce – money is not the name of the game any more. Since moving companies for a pay rise or more compensation is not the answer for employees, it all comes down to the culture and environment you create for them. If you can demonstrate your potential to your candidates, and they understand how they can flourish with you, they will be more likely to come and work for you.

The new generation of leaders are bolder than those that came before them. They want to know what you can do for them and will not compromise on their own development just for the sake of a job. If you are not genuinely creating a culture where young people are valued for what they are, there will be problems. They also want to be part of something that works towards a greater societal goal.

We need a change in leadership culture where young people are understood and valued. Often young people are not respected, and it’s time to shift that culture or lose out on the talent they can bring.