Don’t waste time and money grooming the wrong individuals for future leadership roles. Developing a formal strategy to identify high-potential employees can help ensure that you’re nurturing the right talent, says a new white paper from Aon Hewitt, offering advice on assessing future superstar leaders.

High-potential employees are successful at quickly taking on and embracing new challenges, adapting to changing situations, and achieving great results. They are an organization’s most coveted resource because they bring new ideas, innovation and vision, and they get stuff done.

Yet, many organizations fail when it comes to identifying high-potential employees. Why?

  • They confuse performance with potential. Just because an individual is a high-performer in their current role—consistently exceeding expectations, producing more than everyone around them and serving as an inspiration to colleagues—doesn’t mean the transition to the next role will produce the same results, nor does it indicate a high potential for leadership.
  • They fail to discuss employee aspirations. Managers often assume they know what their direct reports want without ever having a candid conversation about future plans. Some individuals may be satisfied in their current jobs, while others may have life circumstances that prevent them from taking on a new role. It’s important to teach managers how to have thoughtful, open and future-focused conversations with employees about career goals.
  • They don’t clearly define “high potential.” Without standardized evaluation criteria, bias and organizational politics can enter into the classification process, resulting in poor selection decisions and wasted investments.

Aon recommends a holistic approach to employee assessment that centers on three key dimensions: ability, agility and aspiration.

Ability: Can this person take center stage? Do they have the social adeptness, emotional intelligence, persistence, tenacity and ability to influence needed for strong leadership performance?

Agility: Does this person have the capacity to take on a leading role that may not rely on the same competencies that made them successful in the past? They need a desire and capability to learn, to adapt to the environment, and to seek new skills and experiences on the job.

Aspiration: Does this person actually want to ascend to a leadership position? Do they have the ambition and drive needed to thrive?

See the full Aon Hewitt white paper: “High-Potential or No Potential? Assessing for Your Future Superstar Leaders.”