The three most common hurdles to high potential success (and how to overcome them)

Our research shows that HR professionals are not confident that their organisations have the leaders they need for the future and are struggling to identify high potentials. Here we explore three hurdles you need to overcome to win the high potential race.

There’s no doubt that nurturing future leaders is a high priority for organisations. Commercial success depends on it, especially in a competitive landscape that is evolving so fast. Leadership gaps mean missed goals and unrealised opportunities. High quality leaders stand up in times of crisis and guide their teams through change.

Yet something is clearly going amiss. Our research shows that CEOs and boards lack confidence in their future leadership pipeline. Only 11% of organisations that currently have a high potential program are very satisfied with its performance. That leaves a whopping 89% unsatisfied.

Whether your organisation needs to reassess your approach to identifying and developing high potentials, or it’s starting from square one, we’ve identified the top three hurdles that organisations need to leap over to win the high potential race.

Hurdle #1: An unscientific and inconsistent definition of talent and potential

The starting point for any high potential program must be a shared understanding of what high potential looks like. And there’s one key factor that is muddying the waters: current performance.

A high performer may come with a strong track record of delivering results, but these results only reasonably predict success in similar roles, which don’t necessarily include big leadership roles. In fact, only 30% of high performers are also high potentials. The remaining 70% have what it takes to succeed now, but lack at least one critical component necessary for future success.

Potential is about having the career aspirations to grow a career and it’s often demonstrated by superior performance under first-time or different conditions and by the ability to respond quickly to diverse, intense, varied and adverse assignments. Organisations need to embed this understanding of potential into their talent programs so that performance doesn’t lead them astray.

Hurdle #2: A restricted search for potential, limited to a narrow talent pool

The common selection methods don’t seem to be delivering the right people into high potential programs. Manager nomination is the most common way that high potentials are identified, but it’s easily derailed by subjectivity or unconscious bias.

Organisations are also overlooking hidden talent by restricting their search for high potentials to a narrow talent pool. Our research shows that only 45% of businesses are considering mid-level leaders or below. The logic goes that high potential candidates have to prove their performance first, but we’ve already discussed that performance does not equal potential. By limiting the search to more senior roles, organisations are also missing out on the diversity that is more prevalent in more junior roles.

Organisations need to try harder, do more and look deeper to uncover and encourage talented people who currently shun the limelight and may not put themselves forward.

Hurdle #3: A set of leadership requirements focused on today rather than tomorrow

High potential programs must never lose sight of the fact that they’re about the leaders of tomorrow, not today. As such, they need to be founded on the leadership qualities that will be valuable in the future. Defining a set of leadership requirements focused on the future will take high potential assessment to a new level.

While we can’t predict what tomorrow will look like, we know that future leaders will be leading in the digital environment. They’ll need to successfully navigate disruption, complexity, and continuous change. They’ll also need to continually adapt, deploying fast, clear decision-making while energising people and exchanging ideas.

Embedding these leadership characteristics in your high potential program will ultimately future-proof your talent pipeline and increase the odds that your high potentials really will deliver future success.

the first in our series of eBooks for a concise guide on confidently evaluating and identifying the high potential leaders in your organisation.