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In an ideal world, organizations would have unlimited time and money to spend developing every employee’s potential to the fullest. However, the reality of business forces companies to invest with care—in fact, an organization’s future can hinge on how well it exercises foresight when allocating resources. As effective employees are the central resources of any company, businesses should explore strategies which focus on identifying and training high potential (HiPo) employees.

Companies’ interest in searching out employees with latent potential is grounded in new findings which suggest that, across a myriad of industries, positions, and organizations, a small minority of workers are responsible for the vast majority of organizational achievement. While the exact split varies depending on the complexity of particular jobs, studies reveal that, on average, the top 20% of employees contribute around 80% of company-wide output.

Especially talented employees also boost the efficacy of co-workers; they reap the rewards of heightened performance and become examples, motivating colleagues to adopt a similar work ethic and ushering in an environment of symbiotic competition. In fact, research shows that augmenting teams with a top-performer can boost collaborative effectiveness by 5 to 15%.

However, it’s important to note that earning a promotion or two shouldn’t necessarily qualify a candidate for HiPo development. Future superstars don’t just demonstrate above-average capability, they show a proclivity for electrifying organizational output to such an outstanding degree that a company’s success rate would suffer without them. Fortunately, such star workers share a set of basic traits which almost universally characterize high-potential.


How effectively a worker can absorb, retain, and demonstrate key job skills is a major indicator of high potential. Work sample sets—where employees complete job-related tasks under observation—can be used to gauge employees’ performance levels.

In predicting an employee’s capacity to excel, managers should further consider whether employees possess the mental flexibility necessary to quickly and thoroughly master complex tasks. Predictors of cognitive ability, such as IQ, are useful metrics in determining mental fortitude, while an abundance of vision and creativity, as well as a business-oriented mindset, are also prime indicators of leadership potential.

Social Intelligence

Being an employee involves being part of a whole. Like any structure, collaboration between an organization’s parts is essential in achieving cohesive progress. The ability to recognize and utilize coworkers’ strengths is often correlated with skillful management; without it, workplace interactions degrade into disorganization and petty disagreement, and productivity stalls.


Socially skilled individuals effectively self-manage while cultivating prosperous relationships. They don’t falter under stress, and they overcome increasingly daunting challenges, all while maintaining a sense of integrity and self-worth. Workers with marked socio-emotional intelligence will strive to build a strong network of contacts, and take steps to cement working relationships. They’ll be excellent listeners, able to read the subtle cues of any interaction and react appropriately. The presence of exceptional social skills indicates an ability to construct a sphere of influence within which high potential employees may persuade stakeholders and solidify alliances.


Drive is unique among the characteristics of high potential, as it is the factor that determines if all other HiPo-indicative talents will actually be of use. Talent alone cannot see a difficult task through, only the personal motivation to progress will result in future success. Drive is evident in an individual’s work ethic; in their willingness to accept extra jobs and assignments, even if doing so requires sacrificing personal time. Workers with drive can be identified using behavioral tests which measure qualities like ambition, tenacity and determination to achieve.

Few employees possess the exact combination of charisma, wit and motivation necessary to achieve massively within an organization, but accurately identifying and investing in those who do will likely generate significant returns.