How to Identify and Develop Employees with High Potential

July 12, 2022

When it comes to nurturing the abilities of employees, how inclusive or exclusive should organizations be?

Individuals with high potential are 91% more valuable to a company than employees with low potential.

Who is a F?

Employees who have the essential skills for evolving job roles are known as high-potential employees. These employees are ambitious and take charge of their responsibilities. They not only add value to the company, but they also serve as a catalyst in the process of determining its future.

These characteristics serve to set High-potential employees apart from the rest of the workforce. They indicate that what distinguishes people is their ability to evolve and thrive swiftly in future roles, rather than their current job performance. Employees with high potential are far more important to the company.

Social skills

Employees must be able to get along and earn the support of their managers and coworkers on a fundamental level. Relationship issues are, in fact, the leading cause of managerial failure. Two key capacities are involved in social skills: the ability to manage oneself and the ability to manage others (relationships). Employees who are more likely to thrive in larger, more difficult tasks must first be able to manage themselves – to handle additional pressure, respond constructively to adversity, and act with dignity and integrity. Second, they can construct and sustain cooperative working relationships, establish and maintain a broad network of contacts and form alliances, and influence and persuade a variety of stakeholders.


Standardized tests that measure conscientiousness, accomplishment motivation, and ambition can be used to assess drive. It can also be detected by an individual’s work ethic, willingness to take on more responsibilities and tasks, desire for increased responsibility, and even willingness to sacrifice.


Some of the distinguishing characteristics of a HiPo employee are the ability to swiftly read a difficult situation and easily manoeuvre through it. HiPos have a positive attitude on changing circumstances. Some of the basic traits of a HiPo employee are their ability to move swiftly and effortlessly between tasks and locations, make sense of confusing situations, and adapt to change with ease.


Intellect is defined as the capacity to think strategically, solve problems, and make sound decisions. It also denotes the ability to plan ahead and handle long-term objectives. As one progresses up the corporate ladder, one’s position shifts from individual problem-solver to strategic thinker. A HiPo employee’s differentiating characteristics include the capacity to think analytically, recognize a pattern or trend in a complex issue, and make successful decisions rapidly.


Leadership abilities such as encouraging and inspiring others, as well as influencing and mentoring team members, will be necessary to succeed in future careers. To thrive in future roles, you’ll need to be able to develop trust, credibility, and confidence among team members. HiPos are persons who have excellent networking abilities and are well linked to both internal and external stakeholders.

The Difference Between High-Potential Employees vs High-Performance

Many firms fail to see the benefits of a HiPo campaign for a variety of reasons. One of the most difficult aspects of identifying high-potential employees is that current performance, as an indicator, frequently overshadows other characteristics that may be more relevant. Furthermore, managers frequently focus solely on performance in the lack of a clear definition of potential and the qualities that identify a high-potential individual.

High-Potential employees vs High Performer
An organization’s potential necessitates scratching underneath the surface. ‘Performance’ is insufficient as a criteria for determining potential. While performance qualities contain potential, identifying high-potential people only on the basis of performance can create a bottleneck in discovering prospective individuals who may be responsible for moving your firm to future success. When strong achievers are placed in roles that are not suited to them, they may not perform as well as predicted. If they don’t have the potential to take on future roles, they will inevitably fall short. And, in the end, the organization loses a fantastic performer who could have been a valuable asset if cultivated correctly. Although performance is important, top performers are not guaranteed to become effective bosses/managers/leaders.

High performance, particularly in technical or domain abilities, is more likely to be detected or recognized. Domain knowledge, on the other hand, has a limited impact on future job success. As one progresses from a clearly defined role in the present to an unclear role in the future, which may necessitate transferring teams, functions, and business units, as well as learning new abilities to perform well, an overall openness to learning becomes more vital.


The McKinsey nine-box matrix has nine boxes on the x-axis and potential on the y-axis. The top right box represents the ideal intersection of high performance and great potential. In contrast, the bottom left section has low scores on both categories — performance and potential. The McKinsey nine-box matrix acts as a catalyst for the formation of a developmental journey. Organizations can construct a unique approach for each box after each employee is mapped to the McKinsey nine-box matrix, allowing them to create a customized employee development plan.

The performance vs. potential model is a widely used approach for distinguishing high-potential employees from high performers. Each segment in the performance vs potential grid represents the first step toward developing a workforce that is future-ready.

What is the best way to develop a high-potential employees?

Organizations can develop their high-potential employees in a variety of methods, including:

  • Putting them in exceptional or challenging situations
  • Providing them with the opportunity to take on more tasks
  • Providing appropriate training for new positions
  • Job rotation for a more holistic understanding
  • Assigning them coaches and mentors to shadow and learn from
  • By providing them with the necessary resources and training materials for their personal development
  • Promotions and appraisals are given to them


What is the McKinsey nine-box matrix in High-Potential Development?

The McKinsey nine-box matrix can assist firms in determining an employee’s preparedness and matching them to the appropriate development exercise. By identifying the areas that require investments and efforts to build future champions, the performance vs potential matrix establishes the groundwork for a sound high-potential employee development plan. It also specifies an employee’s readiness to assume a more sophisticated function, implying that people in the top right box will likely take one to two years to take on more evolved roles, while others may take longer, depending on their position in the matrix. Employees with exceptional performance or potential are champions who must be properly recognized, rewarded, and challenged.

Motivating high-potential employees but low-performing individuals requires a different approach. Employees with low performance and potential should be reassigned. The performance vs potential matrix eventually leads to overall employee progress and development, resulting in a formidable workforce in the future.


With the correct analytical tools for high-potential identification, the nine-box model may help employers get the most out of their programs and put people on a path of learning and development.

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