Tapping The Potential Of Your Company’s Hidden Superstars

Your business is full of impostors posing as high-potential employees, but if you dig a little deeper, you can separate those posers from the real deal.

Tapping The Potential Of Your Company’s Hidden Superstars
[Image: Flickr user Dennis Jarvis]

Despite all the talk about the war for talent, most organizations already have the supply of talent they need. The problem is, many employers are unable to either identify or engage those high-potential individuals.


Instead, employers often reward and promote people who are less competent but able to navigate office politics. A great deal of the individuals designated high-potential workers in fact have very little potential for leadership, innovation, or performing at the next level.

The solution to this is twofold: First, employers must implement more objective protocols for quantifying performance and measuring their employees’ true potential, which will prevent most of the less competent workers from being promoted. Second, employers must help their employees with real potential get noticed and recognized.

Who are your undervalued employees?

Many employees who get the shaft tend to be altruistic team players that have emotional intelligence but are too low key to self-promote. They are creative and curious, but tend not to flourish in rule-bound, bureaucratic environments. They are highly skilled, but their abilities have rarely been put to use because they have been assigned to the wrong projects or given tasks for which they are unqualified. And finally, your undervalued employees are those people whose values are perfectly aligned with your company’s culture, which means they have higher tolerance levels for staying in the job even when they are disengaged or they feel undervalued.

Failure to recognize these individuals comes at the expense of being left with many uncreative, overconfident, unskilled misfits, who will nonetheless stay because they are rewarded for doing so or unable to find any other jobs.

In the age of big data and evidence-based management, it should not be that difficult or expensive to put in place robust metrics and use scientific tools like psychometric tests to assess potential.

However, three key obstacles stand in the way:

  1. Most managers and HR professionals overestimate their intuitive ability to detect high-potential employees

  2. Performance appraisals are contaminated by office politics, even when reliable methods are used

  3. Few managers have the courage to provide honest feedback evaluations to their direct reports, which would require them to explicitly state that some employees are performing much better than others.

Fairness does not involve treating everybody in the same way but rather as they deserve; if you try to please everyone, you will end up upsetting most. And when you upset your talented people, they will leave and go to work for your competitors.

Here are four simple tips for improving your ability to find true talent from within your organization:

  1. Set clear criteria for promotion that define unambiguously what behaviors, achievements and KPIs you equate to high potential.

  2. Use objective and reliable methods to assess performance and be transparent about everybody’s output.

  3. Provide developmental support for those who fail to meet those targets despite trying–potential can be trained and boosted.

  4. Don’t just focus on past or current performance: personality is a better indicator of people’s potential for a new role, especially when it involves managing people.

Given that engagement is a major driver of performance, managers are in a privileged position to not only retain, but also create more high-potential employees. Since good management boosts engagement, competent managers have the power to attract more of these employees and turn average employees into superstars, too, by engaging, motivating, and empowering employees.

The critical factor determining performance differences between employees is not expertise or skill, but motivation.

Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is an international authority in psychological profiling, consumer analytics, and talent management. He is a Professor of Business Psychology at University College London (UCL), Vice President of Research and Innovation at Hogan Assessments, and has previously taught at New York University and the London School of Economics.