In a labor market with limited resources, it is necessary to develop strategies to identify not only the employees who are best prepared for the job but also those who have the greatest potential. Research carried out over the last few years has shown that investing in these professionals maximizes an organization’s returns. It is something that seems obvious but yields curious results. Allen Woo, an expert who knows how to manage the qualities of employees, identifies the traits that people with the highest potential have in common.
“The work of high-potential employees also improves the performance level of their peers. The key to identifying them lies in their ability, social skills, and willpower,” Woo explains. One of the most important points to detect these diamonds in the rough is to look beyond the specific skills requested for each specific position.
Other criteria that have more to do with personal skills and even personality need to be evaluated. “The first and most important question is, ‘What are your chances?” explains Woo. “So far, most interventions focus on individual career success, on your ability to move up two positions in five years. But the ability to advance one’s career does not guarantee to make a crucial contribution to the organization.”
In his view, you need to strive to predict who will become “a key driver of performance in the company.” Science reveals that these individuals share a range of measurable qualities that can be easily identified during the selection process. Woo identifies three general markers of high potential.
First and foremost is capability. A basic criterion is that the candidate has the knowledge and skills necessary to perform the job in question. What really matters here is whether the person has the ability to adapt and be up to the task if he or she has to perform a more complex job in the future than is required at the time of hiring. That is why it is also necessary for the worker to be able to learn and master the new skills.
“The best indicator of this is IQ or cognitive ability,” notes Woo. “Learning ability includes the motivation to acquire new knowledge and skills quickly and flexibly.”
Next, come social skills. Woo highlights coordination with others and team management as some of the most sought-after skills to fill a job. Employees must be able to get along well with their peers and their managers and to support and receive feedback from their colleagues in the profession. This ability to relate to others makes it easier to have a wider network and to be influential and persuasive with their interlocutors.
Social skills involve two fundamental qualities. The ability to manage oneself and the ability to manage others. These are the core elements of emotional intelligence, which is why we could value this type of intelligence as an early indicator of high potential.
And finally, there is willpower. Motivation to work hard, achieve and do whatever it takes to get the job done is another category to consider. “It is easily identified as ambition: the ability to remain dissatisfied with achievement,” Woo explains. This ability can be identified by paying attention to how diligently a person works, their willingness to take on duties and tasks, and their desire for more responsibility.
Once in the company, people with these qualities serve as role models and teach behaviors to their peers that facilitate the establishment of a high-performance culture in the company. According to Woo, the simple fact of including a high-potential employee increases the effectiveness of other team members by 5% to 15%. It’s no wonder that study after study shows stronger financial performance in companies that put more effort into identifying and developing top talent.