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Identifying and assessing High Potentials

While identifying and developing top talents within an organization is key for corporate performance, best practices in high potential identification are generally less documented and benchmarked than recruiting or compensation. Quite often, high potential identification is based on an informal process, often focused on analyzing past performance.

In our experience, there are however some key “best practices” to have in mind when developing a high potential process and set of criteria for identification.

Client case

A Fortune 500 was falling behind its growth targets in emerging markets. Local competitors were in a better position to grab local consumers and resources. They had a better understanding of local market needs despite our client superior technologies. In many countries, the best and brightest local talents – especially women – left our client to local companies as they did not see positive career opportunities and did not feel adequately rewarded.

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A fact-based process

Research on the unconscious workings of the mind shows that the potential of two people will be perceived differently depending on who they are,where they come from. Therefore, providing the right level of “cold” and homogeneous facts about both performance and learning abilities or learning to grow is needed to provide fairer chances to succeed to diverse profiles. Such a process will reduce the odds of having some senior managers promoting their “own foals” while these profiles do not deserve such a differentiated treatment.

A process integrating all managers early on and avoiding creating “points of no return”

A process integrating all managers early on and avoiding creating “points of no return”
Corporations that have achieved the strongest diversity at the highest level usually consider that anyone joining the company with the right set of initial core skills has the potential to reach the highest levels. Potential is often evaluated early on with a large vision. For example, one airline company, which is currently perceived as having the most diverse pool of High Potentials of its industry, integrates in the High Potential pool any manager capable of moving two ranks higher than its current position. Therefore, as long as a manager displays the potential to reach two positions above his/her current position, he/she will benefit from development opportunities to reach such levels.

In contrast, corporations which are investing heavily in very few “stars” often create a system where the right opportunity for career progression will be given to a handful few. Someone who has not been provided such an opportunity from the start will therefore not ever be in a position to be recognized as a high potential.

Recent benchmarks also show that “diverse talents” often have a slower career start than their Caucasian counterparts, with a lower performance. Their full potential is more generally surfaced after five to seven years of tenure vs one or two for white men. Had these corporations created a go/no go system, diverse managers would never been able to reach the highest positions. The same patterns often apply to women. Potential is often evaluated between 30-35 years old, at the time where women have children and are usually out of their jobs more frequently than their male colleagues. Keeping such stringent time frames with no opportunity for reconsideration would thus also eliminate many women from the pool.


Best-in-class companies usually adapt the process every two years on average mainly by adapting to changes in the labor market or corporate strategic posture. In 2007, the CEO of one of our clients started attending himself High Potential identification process meetings in key emerging countries such as China and India. These were growth priorities for the group where it faced talent shortages. Such a direct involvement contributed to reducing turnover of qualified Chinese and Indians: they were provided with attractive career progressions at the international level within the group with CEO support.

Our approach

Over the last three years, drawing on the latest brain research and strategy consulting, Diverseo has developed a set of proprietary tools and approaches to help corporations better leverage a larger pool of talents to improve performance. Our methodology, the HR Process scan™, aims at identifying how to improve High Potential identification criteria and process, drawing on our methodology, experience and benchmarks in High Potentials identification.

In order to best refine and adapt the High Potential identification process and criteria for evaluation, the following steps should be performed:

 Generate buy-in from management and raise awareness for the impact of the unconscious workings of the mind on decision making

 Analyze current process and decision making pattern within the corporate culture surfacing the actual, formal and informal, current decision making processes, tools and criteria used by stakeholders within the process and

 Assess whether/how these processes, tools and pertaining criteria potentially reduce the objectiveness of decision making and decrease the odds for diverse profiles to be included in the High Potential Pool. These should in priority leverage current tools and criteria

 Building on current tools and criteria, define a structured target process and sets of decision making criteria that integrates the automatic workings of the mind and offset their impact when they are unwanted.