The Foundation for Performance

The promise of potential is empty without a track record of high performance. Personality and cognitive capacity should be factors, but job performance should be the measure that bubbles to the surface along with a name, said Rodney Warrenfeltz, a managing partner at personality assessment provider Hogan Assessments.

Yet strong job performance alone is not a conclusive measure of leadership potential. The percentage of top performers who actually go on to advance one or more levels in an organization is fairly small, said Patrick Hauenstein, president of talent management software provider Omni Leadership. He said just 29 percent of top performers end up becoming high potentials, according to a recent Corporate Executive Board study.

So where do talent managers start? For Doug Ready, a professor of leadership at the Kenan-Flagler School of Business at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, performance married with an individual’s learning ability is the foundation talent managers should look for in a prospective high potential.

This approach, however, comes with a caveat: as roles move up on the organizational ladder, performance becomes behavior. “How one behaves is often as important as the set of skills that one has,” he said.

To measure behavior, some firms use personality tests or business simulations to gain insight into individuals’ behavioral habits. Hogan’s Warrenfeltz said many of his clients use the firm’s Hogan Personality Inventory to measure competitiveness, drive, motivation and other interpersonal skills, such as how people work with others and their emotional demeanor. The online test, which takes about 45 minutes, gives organizations a clearer picture of the personality quirks that may get in the way of an individual’s leadership development. Similar tests for behavior and other intelligence indicators abound.

When to give behavioral- or personality-based assessments also may differ. Warrenfeltz said he’s heard of firms that use personality assessments or like to choose who is considered a high potential. But, more often than not, firms use these sorts of assessments after the selection process as a leadership development tool.

Warrenfeltz said taking the assessment and going through a detailed feedback process with the individual gives both parties the chance to identify potential gaps or derailers in an effort to preserve and foster that individual’s leadership development.

Non-performance measures are often used more in development than in selection because they are a small part of the overall assessment picture, said Stu Crandell, senior vice president of global solutions at PDI Ninth House, another talent assessment and development firm. Personality, cognitive or behavioral tests should complement a wider, holistic approach to high potential measurement. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all process,” he said. Further, giving these kinds of assessments in the development phase allows individuals time to correct poor habits.

Making them part of the selection process could leave behind potential stars who could go on to be great business leaders with a little work, said Nancy Martini, president and CEO of behavioral assessment provider PI Worldwide.

“It’s a workable knowledge rather than a check-box,” she said. “My biggest message would be making sure [organizations] leverage [behavioral assessments] across the employee lifecycle, not just at the beginning.”

Even after formally assessing personality, behavior and performance, human intuition is still a part of the selection process.

“It’s often based on gut feel,” said Rick Lash, director of the national practice for leadership and talent at management consultancy Hay Group. “You know, they just think Sally is a high flyer and has potential to be a future leader.”

The Devil in the Details