By Anne Whiting, M.S., Senior Consultant

Succession planning is critical for companies to thrive –or even survive- long-term. We help our partners leverage 360 Feedback throughout the planning process, but we get a lot of questions around one step in particular: identifying high potential employees. There’s a lot to lose if you fail to pick the right people – and a lot to gain if you succeed. When you validate your nominations with assessment tools like 360 Feedback, you fill your leadership pipeline with true high potentials.

An organization that does not validate its HiPo nominations puts itself at a disadvantage. There are common roadblocks to accurate selection, all of which can lead you to promote the “wrong” people and to lose the “right” ones to the competition. We often see these mistakes: 

  1. Conflating “performance” with “potential”
  2. Using a vague definition of “potential”
  3. Not understanding how bias may be impacting your HiPo program

“High performance” vs. “high potential”

If you’re asked to look around the room and identify your most capable employee, you’ll probably point out the person delivering the best work. This assumption makes intuitive sense – but performance is not the same as potential. Asking the right questions can guide your HiPo identification process. For example:

  1. To assess performance, ask…
    • What was this employee’s last performance rating?
    • Can they be delegated tasks for their current job with minimal supervision?
    • Is this someone I would pair up with a new hire for on-the-job training?
  2. To assess potential, ask…
    • Has this employee shown evidence of learning easily?
    • Have they demonstrated initiative and appropriate risk taking?
    • Do they comfortably interact with people at higher levels or in different areas?

Data-driven assessments are designed to ask the right questions, so you know you’re looking at the most relevant results.

Potential for what?

Another common mistake is to look for potential without taking a step back and asking yourself: potential for what? Most people can learn and grow in some way or another. You should be clear about what you need your high potentials to grow toward. That way, you’ll be able to focus on the assessment areas that are relevant to targeted jobs or stretch assignments. The Head of Marketing’s successors need to be evaluated against specific business goals and leadership requirements to understand readiness.

When you integrate validated tools like 360 Feedback into your HiPo selection process, you can measure the competencies that really matter. You won’t waste resources on irrelevant qualities and you’ll end up with candidates that have potential for what counts.

Recognize potential – not similarity

Most companies are striving for diversity in leadership, but many feel trapped by their own talent pools. An organization may genuinely want to add a woman to their C-suite, but how can they do that when all their highly-developed candidates are men? It’s important to understand that this conundrum isn’t happenstance; there are a host of biases that impact who is (or isn’t) viewed as having potential. 

Before a company can achieve a diverse leadership team, it must overcome the blind spots that are making their HiPo nominations so homogenous.  Educating leaders on common sources of bias is an easy first step. Seeking data from several sources rather than relying on any one person’s view can help fight bias.  This is where 360 Feedback can play a role because it includes evaluation from managers, peers, direct reports and others and can be valid predictor of leadership effectiveness.

360 Feedback helps you measure the right things, for the right reasons, so you can feel confident about your HiPo nominations. And once you have the right people in your pipeline, you can get to work on their development plan, your retention strategies, their formal leadership training programs, and…well, at least you’ve got your nominations figured out, right?

Just kidding, 360 Feedback can help with those things, too 😉