Plumping Up the Pipeline

Is there anything more exhilarating than the promise of potential? As research suggests (see sidebar), it’s not necessarily proven accomplishment that excites us, but the mystery of what could be.

It’s the savvy investor who gets in on a stock before it rises to realize an enormous profit. It’s the gambler’s roll of the dice — not with the safer bet in mind, but one with a little more risk involved. Spotting future success or hidden talent before anyone else is the thrill.

The corporate world operates in a comparable vein. As talent functions aim to channel the most fervent and prudent workers into their leadership ranks, measuring and identifying who has the potential to succeed in these roles has become an intricate practice.

Industry experts who measure high potential and academics who study it say the process is far from foolproof. In any business climate, each decision has a cost, and the process to determine which employees to invest in as future leaders is examined closely.

Each organization may embrace a different approach. But in the end, successfully measuring high potential is only as good as its definition, said Jim Kochanski, senior vice president of Sibson Consulting, a human capital advisory. If a company doesn’t properly define what a high potential is, he said, there’s little sense in having a program to build it.

The Foundation for Performance