Development & Retention

Identifying High-Potential Employees From Within

In the past, companies looked outside their organizations to source new talent and skills. But in a constantly changing world of work, organizations need to look within and unleash the potential of their current workforces. Identifying high-potential employees is the first step toward cultivating a powerful, future-ready workforce.

Business strategies and working practices are shifting, faster and faster, to a more digitized model. Many companies, encouraged by the success of these changes, are laying the groundwork to optimize people development for the new economy. Now, business leaders are examining the impact digital transformation has on skills. This, in turn, informs their talent strategy — and what to measure when identifying employees’ potential.

A recent Aon study demonstrates the need for identifying potential from within your organization. Only 30% of the study’s nearly 1,500 participants already have a clear, consistent definition of the “future of work.” A further 55% are actively working on defining the future of work at their company. Meanwhile, 83% say that it is very or extremely important to understand how current resources (including human capital) can be deployed flexibly to meet organizational needs.

Most of the study participants perceive preparation for new roles and skills to be important. In fact, 70% agree that it is very or extremely important to plan for the roles and skills needed going forward. And, when asked about building and maintaining an agile workforce, 73% of participants rated talent mobility as very or extremely important. Identifying the potential within your existing workforce will help you develop a succession plan and stay agile in the face of change.

Organizations recognize the need to develop high-potential employees. But identifying internal talent and matching them to leadership development tracks can be challenging. Here’s how to kick off the process at your organization.

Identify Future-Ready Competencies

The rate of knowledge and skills becoming outdated is accelerating. A few years ago, the World Economic Forum defined the half-life of skills as only five years. Depending on the rate of change, that half-life may continue to shrink.
We’ve moved into an era of constant change. Making hiring decisions based on stagnant skill sets isn’t a long-term solution. Organizations need to focus less on developing specific skill sets and more on developing transferrable competencies. Traditional competency frameworks fail to emphasize the behaviors and abilities needed in an increasingly digital, future-ready workplace. Aon’s research set out to explore and define the core behaviors and competencies your top performers need to thrive through change.

Based on our extensive research, we’ve built our Digital Readiness Model, which highlights three core foundational competencies: agility, curiosity and learnability.
  • Agility refers to your workforce’s ability to adapt quickly and effectively to change. Agile employees aren’t immobilized by unexpected circumstances.
  • Curiosity refers to openness to change. Employees with this quality are inquisitive and enthusiastic about new approaches and initiatives.
  • Learnability refers to your employees’ desire to develop and improve themselves. This is an especially important trait to look for when identifying high-potential employees.
Each of these qualities is essential for thriving in an increasingly automated and digitized organization. But how are organizations identifying internal talent with these competencies and developing them within their current workforce?

Assessments are the only scientifically validated method for identifying employees’ potential. In the past, companies have relied on other factors (such as degrees or work experience) to measure potential. But an employee who hasn’t completed a four-year degree could be just as agile and curious as an employee who has.

When it comes to identifying potential from within your workforce, there are opportunities to make great progress. According to a previous survey, 83% of business leaders understood agility, curiosity and learnability to be important for the future of their organization. But only 24% of organizations are currently assessing individuals for agility and adaptability.

Only assessments allow you to gain comprehensive insights into the people you employ. Companies that incorporate assessments into their performance management processes will have an easier time identifying high-potential employees. And knowing your workforce’s potential offers a significant advantage for optimizing your talent management.

Empower Talent by Encouraging Career Ownership

In addition to identifying employees’ potential, assessments also enable employees to take control of their careers. Individual assessment results reveal both an employee’s strengths and areas for improvement. If an employee has a particular career track in mind, assessment results provide them with a blueprint for achieving their career goals. Giving employees career options not only helps in identifying high-potential employees but also in developing and engaging them.

The drive toward individual career ownership is not new.

For years, employees have been eager to have access to tools to help them explore, try and plan out different career paths. Using assessments to foster career ownership takes some of the pressure away from succession planners, line managers and the learning and development team. Career ownership empowers employees to design their own career plans, which fosters retention and engagement.
Employees need to take ownership and proactively steer their own skills acquisition and development to improve their mobility within the company. This is a move away from the traditional team-led approach to talent development. Fostering career ownership allows HR leaders and managers to delegate responsibility for career progression to the individual. This gives the people the freedom to dictate their own path.

But HR leaders still play an important role in identifying high-potential employees and helping them discover opportunities for growth. Develop a clear job architecture, outlining which career paths are most aligned with assessment results. Aon’s recent pulse survey reveals that over half of organizations are currently evaluating or updating their career pathways.

Employees need access to useful career-mapping tools and accurate assessments. It’s up to HR leaders to help high-potential employees maintain their strengths while improving areas of opportunity. Provide development interventions to extend high-potential employees’ capabilities and competencies.

Keep in mind that progression doesn’t always move upwards. An important part of career ownership is recognizing that employees themselves are best suited to dictate their own career paths, even if that means losing them to another department.

Find Future Leaders by Identifying High-Potential Employees

Developing agility, curiosity and learnability allows your workforce to be flexible, seek self-improvement and remain open to change. This, in turn, enables high-potential talent to adapt as workplace roles and requirements continue to evolve.

But there are other, more specific competencies that signal leadership ability in the digital age. Start filling out your succession plan by identifying high-potential employees with these traits:
  • Drive to lead, which employees demonstrate by proactively taking the initiative and following through to accomplish essential tasks.
  • Championing collaboration, which can be seen in employees who inspire and interact with others effectively, especially in a remote environment. High-potential employees who champion collaboration will be seen working together toward common goals.
  • Humility, which employees display by being sincere, open and honest with others while being hesitant to take personal credit for success.
  • Empowerment, which can be seen in employees who are biased toward action. Empowered employees do the work that needs to be done, and are especially adept at helping remove roadblocks to success.
These behaviors impact how high-potential employees approach new tasks and roles — and how they support and lead their colleagues through change. Identifying high-potential employees who embody these characteristics widens your leadership pool. Use assessments, paired with an effective performance management system, to identify employees who display leadership behaviors.

Recognize That Employee Potential Requires Change

Employee potential will ebb and flow. As circumstances change, so will an employee’s potential to progress to a different role or learn new skills.

The key is to maintain lines of communication between management and high-potential employees. Have frequent check-ins about what’s right for them and for the business. Assessment opportunities, career conversations and talent reviews will support developing and identifying high-potential employees.

If you don’t provide a path for their potential to blossom, your high-potential employees will find another organization that does.

High-potential employees can feel stifled if kept in one role for too long. Find ways to allow high-potential employees to make lateral moves to learn skills from another part of the organization. Incorporate cross-training opportunities to maintain engagement and to develop well-rounded future leaders.
“Progression might not always be upwards, but there still needs to be a sense of development for employees," writes Dan Lucy in the recent Times Special Report on the future of work. "Transparency and support are essential to democratizing employee potential.” Employees need access to reliable information about their own skills and competencies, and assessments provide that information in an easy-to-read, actionable format. High-potential employees thrive when they can see the road ahead of them. Assessments provide the map they need to take ownership of their career paths — and for you to optimize high-potential talent’s skills and competencies.

Aon | Assessment Solutions

Aon's assessment solutions provides clients with powerful tools and insights to help them make better talent decisions at every stage of the employee lifecycle. This includes pre-hire assessments, identifying future leaders, screening for digital skills and agility, and AI-enabled solutions.

Share article:


General Disclaimer
The information contained herein and the statements expressed are of a general nature and are not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or entity. Although we endeavor to provide accurate and timely information and use sources we consider reliable, there can be no guarantee that such information is accurate as of the date it is received or that it will continue to be accurate in the future. No one should act on such information without appropriate professional advice after a thorough examination of the particular situation.

Terms of Use
The contents herein may not be reproduced, reused, reprinted or redistributed without the expressed written consent of Aon, unless otherwise authorized by Aon. To use information contained herein, please write to our team.