"Setting the bar high in our approach to hiring has been, and will continue to be, the single most important element of [our] success."

The words of Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos — one of the most impressive corporate value creators in recent history — still ring true today. Having high potentials in your ranks is critical in determining business growth and success. Yet, this isn't a matter of luck, or fate ... there's a definite knack to spotting a "good one".

Focusing on the future and gearing up for success sees some savvy organisations being highly proactive when it comes to understanding potential, knowing how to identify it and moving fast to secure it.

They've realised that in this talent-tight and volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous (VUCA) world, evaluation of top talent extends past brains, competencies and experience, to the ability to spot potential.

Advertisement

From an internal company perspective, it's about seeing who is "in the house" within the existing workforce in order to identify and highlight existing "high potentials". It also involves knowing how to recruit for high potential.

Being able to spot high potential sounds relatively simple, yet in reality, it's a complicated activity. The reason — all high potentials are high performers, but not all high performers are high potentials, therefore making these employees harder to identify.

Spotting a 'high performer'

Spotting a high "performer" is easy. High performers:

• Stand out in any organisation, consistently exceed expectations, and are management's go-to people for difficult projects because they have a track record of getting the job done.

• Are great at their job, and take pride in their accomplishments, but do they have the potential to succeed in a higher-level role or to tackle more advanced work?

While it might make sense for a high-performing employee to also have high potential, it's not always the case. An employee might be great at their job and take pride in their work and accomplishments, but may not have the potential, or desire to assume a leadership role.

Spotting 'high potential'

In addition to the attributes above, high potentials:

• Consistently and significantly outperform their peer groups.

• Demonstrate behaviours that reflect their companies' culture and values in an exemplary manner.

• Show a strong capacity to grow and succeed throughout their careers within an organisation — more quickly and effectively than their peer groups do.

Spotting high potential is difficult for two reasons — firstly, high performance is so blindingly easy to observe that it drowns out the less obvious attributes and behaviours that characterise high potentials, such as change management or learning capabilities. Secondly, few organisations articulate the attributes and competencies they value in their ideal employees, which means managers don't know precisely what to look for to assess potential. It becomes all about performance, and that can be a problem.

The qualities of curiosity, insight, engagement and determination are considered the hallmarks of potential and it's these that need to be unearthed.

So, how do you spot high potential? I suggest asking the following questions.

10 questions to help spot high potential

1.

Does this person have a proven track record for accomplishing impressive results, not just meeting expectations?

2. Does this person take charge and make things happen, or sit back and let things happen before producing?

3. Does this person inspire confidence in his or her decision making?

4. Can this person lead through persuasion and influence? Can he or she serve as an effective sounding board to others who are struggling with complex issues?

5. Do others trust this person to lead projects and teams, even though he or she doesn't have a leadership title?

6. Does this person have an understanding of how to separate "what" from "how"? An awareness that establishing the destination before deciding on the mode of transportation is essential?

7. Can this person keep a big-picture perspective? Are priorities apparent, or does she or he become stuck in the details and tactics?

8. Do obstacles stop this person? Or do they represent challenges, not threats?

9. What success has this person had with multi-tasking?

10. How do unexpected changes affect this person's performance?