It’s not hard to watch American Idol and pick out the losers.  Some of us may even be able to pick the top performers from the crowd in the early rounds.  But that is because these candidates are laying out their talent for all the world to see.  It isn’t very difficult to judge what is seen.  At the same time, there are a number of those booted off the show in the first round who truly thought they could go all the way.  Turns out, they couldn’t even sing in tune.  They had no idea they had no talent and were truly shocked to be dismissed.

Choosing candidates for your high potential program can be very difficult, and if not done well, can undermine the whole program.  To include poor potentials wastes time and resources and compromises not only the other potentials in the program, but also those high potentials that were not selected.

Fernandez-Araoz, Groysberg, and Nohria surveyed how potentials are identified.  Often managers are used to select candidates, usually from their own departments but sometimes from others as well.  Rarely do employees nominate themselves as across the board people overestimate their potential (singing off-key and not even realizing it.)  Self-assessments might be useful but taken within the context of other valid input.  Annual performance appraisals are helpful and a two-year cycle can identify some high performers.  However, not all high performers are high potentials and so must be supplemented by supervisor recommendations and peer reviews.  Personality tests are rarely used as identification tools as their validity cannot be reliably transferred to performance indicators.

In order to identify high potentials within your organization, consider the culture and your management structure.  Be sure to include hard data if applicable, but also input from supervisors and peers.  A 360º review process would be very helpful to keep in mind as you map out an identification strategy.  We have a passion for process and people strategy – let us know if we can help you build this process into your talent management plan.