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Five indicators of future potential in employees

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Five Indicators of Future Potential in Employees with a man drawing a graph on glass.

Many organisations are implementing leadership development models based on a mix of high potential and high performance.

The idea is that if you can identify people who are both high performing and high potential these people can be fast tracked into more senior roles.

Of course, this raises a question about what happens to the people who are not “anointed” in this way, and organisations need to be careful that their corporate culture suits such an approach.

If you have an effective performance management system you should be able to measure performance easily.

Where many organisations struggle is in the question of identifying potential.

Here are some evidence based indicators of future potential:

Cognitive ability. Decades of research (e.g., Hunter, 1986) have shown that smarter people tend to perform better in jobs and also tend to progress to more senior levels of responsibility. One of the best predictors of job success yet found.
• Honesty/humility. This is a part of the HEXACO model of personality (Ashton and Lee, 2007). When a person is high on this characteristic they tend to be honest, truthful, authentic and not arrogant. This is a very good predictor of long-term leadership success, as manipulative and deceptive individuals with an arrogant attitude are prey to organisational derailing.
• Emotional stability. It is a good idea to recruit people who are emotionally stable. People who are emotionally unstable tend to run into issues of resilience and stress. Staff are typically much more comfortable to report to leaders who are emotionally stable.
• Agreeableness. People who are agreeable tend to be approachable, easy to get along with and slow to anger. This is another key driver of a person’s long-term interpersonal relationships and therefore a predictor of leadership success.
• Conscientiousness. This has been shown for decades to be a good predictor of outcomes at work as well as outcomes in education (Busato et al, 2000). It is also a key component of resilience. The person who is emotionally stable and highly conscientious is much more likely to be able to cope with life’s challenges.

There is strong evidence that these characteristics have a substantial genetic component and tend not to change much over the course of a person’s life.

If you measure these characteristics (using psychometric testing) you will gain a far more accurate perception of a person’s future potential.

This is my final post of the year and I would like to say thank you to the thousands of people who have honoured me by reading my weekly contributions.

The feedback from so many of you and the growth in readership is truly gratifying. I wish you all a wonderful holiday period.


Ashton, M. C., & Lee, K. (2007). Empirical, theoretical, and practical advantages of the HEXACO model of personality structure. Personality and social psychology review, 11(2), 150-166.

Busato, V. V., Prins, F. J., Elshout, J. J., & Hamaker, C. (2000). Intellectual ability, learning style, personality, achievement motivation and academic success of psychology students in higher education. Personality and Individual differences, 29(6), 1057-1068.

Hunter, J. E. (1986). Cognitive ability, cognitive aptitudes, job knowledge, and job performance. Journal of vocational behavior, 29(3), 340-362.

Originally posted: December 19, 2017

Andrew Marty

Managing Director at SACS Consulting

Andrew is a qualified psychologist who has over 25 years of human resource management consulting experience, including extensive senior executive search and selection experience.

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