Many organizations struggle with ways to identify a high potential employee - a "hi-po" - so this article provides a couple of hallmarks to keep a lookout for.
Recognizing a Hi-Po
Many organizations utilize talent assessment tools such as a "9-box" or talent map and use metrics such as performance reviews, manager input and results/accomplishments for determining who the top talent is. One area that often brings up some controversy is the notion of "potential." It remains a nebulous, somewhat elusive concept to quantify. Some base it on academics, some base it on a career trajectory and some base it on a "learning agility" assessment. When it comes right down to it, our national experience in companies large and small reveals three important factors:
Coachability - someone who shows humility even if they went to a top tier school or got high academic marks, who openly admits not knowing something or making past mistakes, someone who demonstrates that they don't take themselves too seriously, someone with high self-awareness and knows what they are good at and can express what their purpose in life is
Ambition - someone who routinely goes above and beyond, who does outside activities, volunteers, or worked while going to school, someone who shows a pattern of putting in extra effort at work, someone with a direction or personal goals they want to achieve in life, someone who has demonstrated being able to learn something new fairly quickly, a history of being able to think on their feet, someone who isn't afraid to speak up and share new ideas or strategies without coming across as cocky or know-it-all
Realistic - someone who understands that even despite hard work, promotions and other perks do not happen immediately, someone who does not have a sense of entitlement (they happily do grunt work), someone who is grounded in the reality that life requires a lot of effort and persistence and doesn't always seem fair, yet they maintain a positive attitude instead of being a victim
Naturally, many factors influence how much potential can be realized in an employee (style of their leader, company resources, opportunities to be stretched, incentives, and organizational culture) but someone missing one of these three factors should be a red flag that no matter what is on paper, they may not be a hi-po.