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Why Don't Our Managers Identify High-Potential Workers?

With the start of a new year, I am trying to assemble a brief guideline to help our supervisors and managers identify key employees within their department. What suggestions do you have as we begin this list? Would you suggest some criteria we could use? — New Year, New Practices, HR analyst, manufacturing, Farmington Hills, Michigan
January 25, 2013
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Related Topics: Management Skills and Development, Strategic Planning, Dear Workforce
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Dear New Year:

Congratulations on identifying "up and comers" in your organization. This group of people will build the talent you need for the future, so you are on the right track. It is crucial to involve your managers early on in the identification process and provide them with a systematic framework for discussing the skills of the individuals thus identified. It's also important that you have discussions internally about the candidates.

You should describe the approach, the various steps, and the definitions with your supervisors and managers long before you embark on this process. This will save you headaches downstream, should some manager's favorite employee not make the list and he or she decides to challenge the methodology and outcome … and thus challenge you.

What Does Not Work

Your biggest challenge is that managers typically do not know how to identify a high-potential employee or how to predict behavior. This results in a lack of consistency and reporting. Other pitfalls include:

  • Nominations in a vacuum - what you end up with is a list of friends of key stakeholders, not necessarily your best people
  • Filling out a bunch of forms and using an overly complicated checklist of skills
  • Managers ranking individuals on a nine-box grid.

Identify the task

It is politically savvy to solicit input from senior executives before you construct final criteria and lay out the process to follow. After a draft of criteria and the approach, the senior HR officer (or whomever gave you the assignment) should inform senior management what the organization is doing and how it will define people with high potential—and what happens to the list.

Next, interview your managers and ask them to characterize the employee being discussed. Use this definition of high potential: 'Which individuals in your department that could play a larger role in this company and ultimately advance to the executive table, if we adequately prepare them?' (Be sure to mention that "development might take several years, but these people could advance over time to a job with broader responsibilities, if developed properly. Don't fall into the trap of specifying a certain position or a timeframe, since organizations/titles/jobs change.

Provide them with a copy of the rating scheme and criteria. Use the following scale:

This individual would be rated by their peers and others they work with as:

  • Exceptional
  • Absolutely one of your best employees
  • Better than most workers

In terms of how they approach their work, the individual is viewed as:

Constructively dissatisfied, driven to make the organization continually better for your customers and their fellow employees.

A voracious learner that consistently seeks feedback, who learns from mistakes and applies what is learned to make improvements.

In terms of day to day work, this employee:

  • Always gets results
  • Is willing to do whatever it takes
  • Always can be counted upon

In terms of collaboration, the individual is:

  • Viewed as a team player by peers and management
  • Someone that everyone likes and, is a 'go-to' person
  • Someone who always finds common ground with others/gains cooperation and, advances the issue.

Looking to the future

  • The employee would be on management's short list.
  • If this individual was promoted today, it would be viewed throughout the organization as a solid move by management.

What happens immediately after the list is prepared

Employees with a preponderance of exceptional marks are most likely those with high potential. Ask your senior management team to meet so you can present your methodology and the eventual outcome. It is also necessary for the individual who gave you the task to back your effort. Keep the list active and circulate it to your chief executives.

After the list is made

  • Do not let the list become an end state—it must constantly be revisited
  • Track what happens to the high potentials. Which types of career development are they getting? Give them stretch assignments to test them out.
  • Ask your chief executives to inquire about the individuals when making in-person visit, possibly even planning a lunch with them.

You are on to something very important. Keep up the good work.

SOURCE: Charlie Bishop, CoralBridge Partners, Chicago

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion.

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 The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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