Is Potential the difference between those who succeed and those who don’t?

‘’Setting the bar high in our approach to hiring has been the single most important element of our success’’ Jeff Bezos, Amazon

Potential is an extensive concept, but when discussing it in context of the workplace we can define it as the ability to adapt to and master increasingly complex roles and environments.

If we look at the history of talent management a clear theme emerges; formerly, brawn was valued, those who could fight in wars, build large structures and survive harsh environments were in high demand and thus highly valued. Following on from this, the focus in the 20th century was on brains; exam results, degrees and credentials were paramount and very little else was considered. In the 1980’s this moved to placing value on competencies wherein employers were no longer able to rely on someone’s past experience to predict future performance and success, and needed to make sure employees were competent in specific areas.

Right now, the focus is on potential, and the underlying potential to grow and develop new skills, or to hone and maximise pre-existing skills.

When it comes to potential, it is not sufficient to state ‘’I know it when I see it’’. To reduce the risk of subjectively identifying potential, we can break it down into five key areas which, with the right combination of interview and psychometric tools, can be assessed and measured:

  1. Motivation – outlined for this purpose as commitment to shared goals, ambition and drive
  2. Curiosity – the seeking out of new experiences and knowledge, openness to honest feedback and ability to embrace change
  3. Insight – self-awareness, emotional regulation, problem solving skills and conflict resolution
  4. Engagement – communication, placing importance on relationships built on the idea that we conduct all work through our relationships with others
  5. Determination – perseverance, driving success, showing resilience

Once the above factors contributing to potential have been objectively identified, the focus is on hiring the people who embody these features, keeping them engaged and motivated, and pushing them to excel.

In terms of keeping employees engaged and motivated, we largely understand that autonomy, mastery and purpose in a role are important to most people, but beyond this, each individual has their own unique style of feeling valued, rewarded and challenged. Before, the identification of this structure was largely guesswork, now with the use of valid and credible assessment tools we can not only identify each individual’s style, but we can harness it, creating bespoke reward structures and challenges.

If all of this is working in tandem the result is a self-perpetuating cycle of engagement which in turn drives self-motivation.

When the traits that make up Potential are identified, job descriptions can be reverse engineered on the basis of these traits. In terms of practical benefits for employers, an employee’s potential sets the upper limits of his or her development range – the more potential they have, the quicker and cheaper it is to develop them, and the higher the return on investment for the company.