Hire for potential, retain through training, and charge with autonomy

HR executives recruit candidates based on the accomplishments they see on their resumes. And they fail so miserably because it relies on the flawed assumption that people who have done well in the past would do equally well or better in the future. Accomplishments are previous results. On the other hand, candidates who have been hired without any accomplishments but purely because the CEO or the top management believed in him or her, have proven to succeed so spectacularly. Why? The answer is potential.

Potential is the ability to adapt to increasingly complex roles and environments. After hiring the high potentials, continuously keep them in a stimulating environment under which they thrive through leadership programs. Also, give them decision-making autonomy in their respective areas of leadership. So, the human resources professionals need a complete retraining that will offer an extraordinary opportunity for the company to exploit the human assets. The new skills they require are the following:

  • Hiring: How to spot potential
  • Retaining: Develop effective leadership-developing programs
  • Charging: Help the best get better by giving them autonomy

Let us examine them one by one.

1) Hiring

Candidates must have not only the right skills but also the potential to learn new ones. Competency-based appointments are increasingly becoming insufficient. That is because what makes someone successful today in a particular role under certain circumstances might not tomorrow because of the ever-changing competitive environment, the dynamic company strategy and the need to manage and work with a different group of colleagues. What is required is the potential of the candidate to fit into future roles. Unfortunately, a candidate’s potential is much harder to discern than competence. Consider Egon Zehnder who developed and refined an empirically validated model over two decades with a predictive accuracy of 85%. In conclusion, this model predicts potential based on five indicators:

  • Motivation: pursuit of challenging goals
  • Curiosity: explore new ideas and avenues
  • Insight: see connections where others do not
  • Engagement: with their work and colleagues
  • Determination: overcome setbacks and obstacles

Perhaps the CEOs who took a leap of faith and hired a candidate who did not have any past accomplishments to show for must have subconsciously seen all the above qualities in him or her. They were competent people with potential. Sadly, most organizations have HR professionals who kill off good candidates and endorse bad ones. The best interviewers’ assessments and the right kind of hiring can vastly improve the odds.

So, of what are high potentials made?

The superior level of performance of high potentials is consistent in a variety of circumstances and settings. Moreover, they have a high propensity to grow and succeed faster and more efficiently than their co-workers. They are three distinct qualities in high-achievers. They are broadly categorized as performance, behavior, and X-factors as illustrated in the table below.

Performance Behavior X factors
Deliver results strongly – credibly Recognize that action counts A drive to excel
Master new types of expertise Exhibit behavior that reflects the culture of their companies A catalytic learning capability
Perform with distinction with a broad range of stakeholders Demonstrate company values in an exemplary manner An enterprising spirit
Competence not at the expense of someone else Be a role model and teacher Dynamic sensors

2) Retaining

After hiring the real high potentials, focus on keeping them not only because of the tendency to fall off voluntarily but also because the talent market is very tight. Make sure that the candidates live up to the high potential spotted in them by offering them future leadership assignments. Companies have targeted leadership development opportunities, job rotations, stretch assignments, and executive programs designed to nurture high-achieving individuals. They push their high-achievers up a straight ladder toward bigger budgets, bigger jobs, and a larger team. These measures have managed to continue their growth but not unleash their ultimate potential. According to a research 40% of internal job moves by “high potentials” have failed because of the following flawed assumptions of senior managers.

  • Assumed that high potentials are highly engaged
  • Equated current high performance with future potential
  • Delegated down the management of top talent
  • Shielded rising stars from early derailment
  • Expected star employees to share the pain
  • Failed to link the stars to corporate strategy

A disciplined approach is needed. Leadership development initiatives should reflect the needs of the rising stars and align with organizational goals. Make sure that the job rotations and relevant stretch assignments they are getting suit their temperaments and aptitudes.

3) Charging

Hiring for potentials and providing them with the proper training is not the end of it. Keeping them in the company without the competitors luring them away is another challenge. There are some proven strategies that management can adopt to keep the top potentials who have attended the leadership program engaged, motivated and driven. They need to reinforce and explicitly express that the “high potential” title is not only an acknowledgment of past accomplishment but also of future potential. Also, give them autonomy in the following four “T” dimensions: Task, Time, Team, Technique

We cannot predict the competencies and skills needed to succeed in the future because of the dynamic nature of geopolitics, business environment, competitive landscape and the tight talent market. It is, therefore, imperative to hire and nurture people with the highest potential and not just those who have proved their abilities in the past. That doesn’t mean forgetting factors like intelligence, experience, specific competencies, performance, and leadership skills. But the implication is that companies should hire competent people with potential. Recognize their competence and potential by enrolling them in an executive development program. And finally, cultivate a sense of ownership in them by giving them autonomy in the decision-making. Thus, hiring for potential, retaining them at every level of the organization, and charging them by giving them independence are the key success factors of the most admired companies in the world.