What’s the difference between high performing and high potential talent?

Written by Kristin Delgado, Managing Research Consultant
Previously published by PSI Talent Management or Cubiks, prior to becoming Talogy.

We could all use a competitive advantage with succession planning and organisational development – and knowing what qualities to look for in future leaders is key. High-potential individuals usually advance at a faster pace than their peers and are part of the company’s future leadership pool. They are often given high-exposure positions, are assigned projects with upper management and get extra developmental opportunities. But how can we tell that we are identifying the right individuals as “High Potential”?

One of the common ways that high potential individuals are identified is through job performance – the best performers are tagged as “high-potential” talent. This makes sense, and certainly competence on the job is required for “high potential.” But, despite the strong link between job performance and high potential, the best performers are not always the best leaders. Thus, mistaking a high performer for a high potential leader can be costly.  What’s more, failing to identify individuals with high potential can drive those people to take their talents elsewhere.

The best way to succeed in identifying high-potential talent is to design a success profile that describes the skills and qualities needed to be a successful leader within the organisation.  We know that cognitive ability is the best predictor of job performance, but what is the best predictor of potential? 

Researchers who have attempted to tease out these relationships have identified competencies, such as assertiveness, independence, optimism, flexibility, and social responsibility, that can be found in a high potential staff member. In our leadership research with Executive Assessments at PSI, we have found that several key competencies have been unique predictors of high-potential talent.

These competencies consistently predict high-potential talent, even after controlling for the effects of job performance:

  • Learning Ability
  • Creative Thinking
  • Competitive Drive
  • Managerial Courage

Key Takeaway Points:

  • Performance and potential are not the same – while high-potential staff must be high performers, high performers are not always high-potential.
  • It is important to identify the qualities that constitute high potential talent apart from high performance.
  • These qualities may be difficult to identify, since performance and potential are not mutually exclusive.

Identifying and selecting high-potential staff

We are facing a talent war.

Great leaders are hard to find and even harder to retain in a competitive global economy.

Now more than ever, identifying, developing, and engaging high-potential candidates is an important part of every successful organisation’s talent strategy. They know that their culture is driven by their leaders and they also know that high performing leaders can be associated with all sorts of positive outcomes (e.g., increased retention of staff, higher employee engagement scores).

Download our white paper to find out:

  • What are indicators of potential?
  • How to identify and assess for potential
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high potentials a roadmap for identifying and selecting high potentials cta whitepaper cover