Written by Catherine Librandi, EMEA Head Talent Management and Senior Consultant AIMS International Switzerland

According to a study published in the Harvard Business Review, more than 40% of participants in High Potential Development programmes may not have been suitable. The reasons for this mismatch were an overemphasis on technical and professional expertise, results (performance) and cultural fit, compared to the weight given to strategic vision and leadership skills or the ability of participants to motivate their teams.

Those companies that invest in their human capital, in the management and development of their talents (Talent Management) and do so while using a rigorous assessment methodology and scientifically backed psychometric tools are those that will remain successful and competitive in the long term.

In order to ensure this ongoing talent optimisation, companies need to solve an equation with 3 unknowns: people, time and place, the winning formula for companies being to always have the right person, at the right time, in the right place. This is of course particularly important when setting up leadership or high potential development programs, as these can only be successful if they enable the best possible combination to be found every time.

While the equation is valid for all employees of a company, it is particularly crucial when it comes to high potentials: in this case, it is of course important to identify the people with the best performance, the best technical skills, the best cognitive abilities, who are highly motivated and who reflect the company’s culture in their behaviour, but this is not sufficient. These people must also have development potential in terms of leadership skills, strategic vision as well as outstanding emotional and social skills to be able to occupy strategic positions at management level.

To be successful, the company needs to ask itself the questions that will allow it to find the best possible combination each time. This reflection and analysis can be structured around the three variables of time, place and people.

Time: the right moment, the context

It is important to be aware of what is happening inside the company, but also outside and therefore to ask the question:

  • Where does the company stand in relation to external factors such as competition, technological advances, etc. and what are the major challenges the company has to address to ensure its long-term stability?

After this initial observation, other questions may be relevant. It will also be important to understand the reasons why the company would set up a high potential identification program:

  • Is it about succession planning?
  • Is it about filling strategic positions following a change (merger, takeover, restructuring, etc.)?
  • Is it about identifying young graduates with the best potential for development?
  • Is it about increasing diversity in management teams to boost performance?
  • Is it about putting in place leaders who can support significant change in the company?
  • Is it about developing new skills that are still under-represented in the company?
  • Is it about securing the human resources needed to manage new projects?

More generally, it is important for companies to think about the challenges they have to address in order to remain competitive, but also to be clear-sighted so as not to “miss” the right moment. Decision-makers will need organisational awareness, mental agility and a great deal of empathy in order to adjust quickly to new requirements and to be one step ahead of future needs. A typical example of an unavoidable challenge is the digital revolution.

The place: the right place, the right position, the right role, the right function, the right process. All this while considering current requirements and future needs. So, decision-makers have to regularly ask themselves questions around the variable « place, location »:

  • What are the key areas and roles within the company at the moment, namely those that are strategic and that ensure the company’s long-term development and success?
  • What new roles, functions and areas will have to be created to enable the company to grow, remain competitive and innovative?
  • What are the technical (know-how, experience), behavioural, emotional and social (soft skills) competencies required by these new roles?

The person: the right person, the one with the right skills and the best results. Again, according to the same Harvard Business Review article, it would appear that a high potential employee is generally in the top 5% of performers in an organisation. Here the reflection is about the variable «person»:

  • Which people are currently in roles that are strategic and critical for the company’s development?
  • What results are they achieving?
  • What could happen if these people were to leave the company?
  • What are their strengths, skills, potential for development, level of commitment, and motivation factors?
  • What needs to be done to keep this motivation intact and retain them?
  • Who are the people within the organisation who are likely to lead in new areas or take on new roles?

A winning formula, a winning strategy presupposes a blueprint for identifying the people who are top performers, who show interest, high commitment, high motivation and who have significant development potential, whether within an existing organisation or for future recruitment. To find out more about our High Potential Identification and Development Program, click here.


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