Human Resources

How to Identify Employees with Potential



Professional development is essential to the long-term success, and ultimately, profitability, of a business. 

Usually, the most productive employees in the workplace are the most experienced and knowledgable – they have a natural aptitude and talent for the work that they do. By identifying these employees and nurturing their skills, you can significantly improve the productivity of your own business over the long term, sustainably. 

But, that said, the UK economy is notorious for being blighted by short-termist thinking when it comes to skills-development.

The upcoming 2030 skills gap is set to exacerbate the problems caused by widespread short-termism in the economy, when it comes to employee development. If you think that COVID-19 had a bad effect on your business, wait until the skills gap bites. 

Investing in the skills of your most promising employees is an excellent way to improve the structural health of your business and boost your productivity and profitability. So, how do you go about identifying those high potential employees and how do you develop and retain them? We had a closer look at the process:

1. Find them!

Before you think about developing the potential of an employee, you have to identify them first!

It pays to get this stage of the process right. After all, you’ll be investing a lot of time, money and resources into helping an employee develop their skills – you’ll want to make sure that you pick the right person who will provide the right benefits to your organisation and that this effort isn’t wasted. 

How to assess if an employee has potential:

Set clear expectations for promotion and development

When it comes to finding employees who have potential for long-term development, and scaling the process, it can be helpful to set internal or external expectations for performance. If an employee meets all of the expectations, that can then be understood as suggesting they could be a good candidate for long-term development. 

These expectations would be set, in line with performance indicators that are relevant to that role and the wider business. For example, if you wanted to find employees with high potential in a procurement role, you might look for evidence of achieving expectations like:

  • Majority of projects within a year delivered on time, or ahead of schedule
  • Evidence of going above and beyond in effort and quality
  • Is high regarded as a worker by colleagues and management

The criteria that you set for considering an employee for development at your business will obviously depend on your own business and company objectives, besides good general performance indicators.

Monitor quality of output

If you’re looking for a quick indicator of whether a candidate has potential, quality of output and overall productivity can be a good piece of data to check. Find out what the overall quality of the candidate’s work is like and look at how it has helped your business achieve its strategic goals. 

Consider their personality traits

Have a think about whether the candidate’s personality is suited to professional development. Do they have a curiosity and motivation to learn new skills? Are they reliable and dependable? Do they take constructive criticism well? If so, they could be a good candidate to invest your development efforts in.

A study featured in the Harvard Business Review found that there were generally three personality traits that indicate an employee has high-potential for development:

  • Ability – how well they perform the duties of their role
  • Social Skills – how well they interact with other team members, clients and third-parties
  • Drive – how well they are motivated to perform their job and improve their skills. 

2. Develop them!

Once you’ve identified your high-potential employees, it’s time to start the development process to develop their skills.

There are a number of different strategies that you can use to develop skills over a long-term period of time.

Invest in a decent qualification path

Professional qualifications are designed to be building blocks of knowledge that a candidate builds on throughout their working life.

Most industries have a leading accreditation body that’s responsible for safeguarding quality in a sector. They usually do this by providing a range of qualifications, tailored to the needs and progression routes of the industry.

Finding out the relevant accreditation body for your industry and looking at whether the qualification paths they have fit with the goals of the employee and the long-term needs of your business can be really useful in devising a development plan.

To see how this approach works in practice, let’s look at the Human Resources sector.

The sector’s leading professional body is the CIPD – the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. It is responsible for maintaining high standards in the sector.  It offers a clear progression of qualifications that cover all stages of a career in human resources and learning & development:

  • Level 3 Certificate: Designed for people coming into HR or L&D for the first time.
  • Level 5 Associate Diploma: Aimed at professionals with some existing experience of the sector, looking to progress to more senior roles.
  • Level 7 Advanced Diploma: For senior professionals in the industry who have extensive experience and want to improve their strategic practice.

As you can see, the qualifications are structured in a way that lets an employee follow a clear progression route. Choosing a set of qualifications that allows an employee to follow a clear path and progression route can make your job a lot easier when it comes to developing their skills!

3. Retain them!

One of the main hesitations employers often have about investing in the skills development or training of their employees is a fear that once trained, they will simply leave and get another role somewhere else. That’s a valid fear to have but it’s pretty unfounded.

In fact, a recent survey found that 34% of employees had left a job specifically because it offered no training or development opportunities, rather than because of the fact they had been trained and wanted to try their luck somewhere else!

Most of the data points to the fact that offering training isn’t the real reason why employees leave – it’s the fact that they aren’t supported or encouraged to stay after being trained.

There are lots of solutions to the challenge of employee retention. Again, some will be relevant to your business, some won’t be. The trick is to throw everything against the wall and see what sticks. Here are a few of the most practical tactics to try:

Give them responsibilities and autonomy

Allowing your employee to take more responsibility over aspects of their role can be a great way to improve overall job satisfaction. Give them responsibilities that allow them to test out their new skills and create opportunities for them to learn new ones.

Try not to micromanage employees – a soft approach can be much more effective when it comes to keeping people happy and valued as workers.

Reward them

Incentives still remain an excellent way to motivate people. (There’s a reason the time-honoured tradition of the Christmas bonus is still a thing, after all) If an employee does an excellent job, tell them and show them that you are grateful.

A lot of employers tend to give cash as a reward because it’s easy, but you don’t necessarily have to go down that route if you don’t want to. Other good ways to reward employees can include:

  • Parties
  • Tickets to an event
  • Extra time off
  • Thank you cards

Respect them

One of the best ways to keep employees who you’ve developed at your company is to respect them as workers, as people and individuals. That basically means, being a polite, flexible and considerate employer.

Treat all employees fairly and equally, never use derogatory language and listen to employee feedback, using it to directly improve working practices and behaviours at your company. Showing employees that you value them as workers and as people is one of the best ways to ensure you retain high potential employees.

We hope you’ve found this guide to how to identify employees with potential useful and you’ve started to think more about ways in which you can develop their skills over the long-term. Good luck!

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