We’ve all heard managers utter phrases like: “He’s got great potential”, “She’s going places”. More often than not this opinion is based on past or current performance (an unreliable indicator of future success) or gut feel, invariably based on the individual manager’s values.

The popular 9 box talent grid often falls victim to the sway of “he who shouts loudest” in support of talent, allowing opinion to gain over objectivity.

A more impartial assessment benefits from the introduction of objective indicators of potential. These will, in part, be influenced by the specific job and organisation. Assuming aptitude is a given, here are 6 objective indicators of potential that can be used to assess the individual:

  1. Initiative: this is demonstrated when an individual identifies and takes new opportunities, assumes responsibility without being asked and recognises and resolves problems without direction.
  2. Focus: the person works by focussing energy and commitment on the business priorities.
  3. Flexibility: they are versatile and demonstrate an ability and willingness to be flexible in responding to circumstances and people.
  4. Engagement: they are able to engage others and manage relationships skilfully.
  5. Connection: they actively develop networks inside and outside the organisation – for the benefit of their current work and in their own longer-term interests.
  6. Growth: They demonstrate an investment in learning and grow as a consequence. They reflect on their performance to understand how their contribution is strong/could develop/might have contributed to problems & success.

A simple high/medium/low assessment against each dimension is an easy way to both evaluate the strength of potential and compare the individual to others in the same position.  In arriving at that assessment it’s important to provide evidence in support.

The higher the potential, the greater the resources and capability of the individual – and therefore an increased likelihood of making the claim of ‘great potential’ a reality.


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