AS a leader or manager you’ll sometimes need to assess potential in an existing employee or a prospective new hire. Assessing potential often means determining someone’s raw talents or abilities rather than their mastery of certain skills.
Companies have a ‘chemistry’, determined by their values and culture. Some companies value generic skills and ‘street smarts’ and, in environments such as these, people with the intellect and attitude can excel. On the other hand some companies’ values are determined by their core business operations, and often only people with unambiguous expertise in that line of business will be successful.
External candidates who present well and show initiative and considerable enthusiasm are deemed to show potential. However you must look beyond enthusiasm for substance.
Whether an insider or a potential newcomer, you need to look at the individual’s past, present and future. Can he or she show a previous record of change, and to what extent can the person demonstrate progression?
If they can, and it’s notable, this is a good sign, particularly if the person performed well in very different jobs as opposed to doing well in very similar roles. You may find it useful to plot the major changes or milestones on a chart or diagram so that you can be clear about the extent to which someone has progressed. In some cases this can help bring greater objectivity than perhaps reviewing a CV.
This can also be applied in the context of different environments. When looking at the present, curiosity is an excellent indicator. Someone asking who, what, when and why, and who questions the “status quo” in an appropriate way will always be of value.
Apart from these characteristics, no meaningful appointment would be complete without first looking at the core competencies required of the job, and in turn to what extent the candidates possess them. In the absence of like for like experience, assessing the person’s core competencies is essential, notably communication skills, delivering results orientation, interpersonal skills, use of initiative, planning and organising, analytical thinking, strategic thinking, building relationships, developing others and team work. A clear understanding of these should enable you to maximise your chances of a successful appointment.
How can you help yourself make a good decision? I can remember one occasion when I spotted potential successfully, and another when I made a mistake.
I was once looking to hire a junior person, and interviewed someone without the experience, but whose enthusiasm captured my interest. Not wanting to make a decision on enthusiasm alone, I had the person undertake a role play with me and a couple of colleagues. It became quickly apparent this person possessed the necessary skills and, once hired, she went on to excel.
At the same time, I moved someone from a junior role into a more senior one. However, in this case I didn’t think the move through or realise that this person’s enthusiasm was only at a surface level.
Had I properly appraised the person’s competencies, and consulted others, I would have not made the mistake. I promoted someone from a role in which they were quite happy and doing well, into one for which they were not properly suited, and subsequently lost someone effective in their original position.
When managing people we want certain individuals to do well. However, they need to have a desire to make things happen and exploit their potential themselves – you can’t give them this.
This often arises between an individual manager and an individual employee who may be liked and perform their role well.
As with all important people decisions, seek different people’s perspectives, and if they can see the competencies, chemistry, change ability and enthusiasm – you can be confident in your decision.
When assessing potential, make it a collective decision. If looking at newcomers, find out how previous
employers saw a candidate’s potential when taking up a reference, or alternatively ask to see / review appraisals.
In either case role playing or having someone undertake projects relevant to the new job (complex or straightforward) will help you make smarter decisions. This will help you make better people decisions when assessing potential.
Don’t forget, when you appoint someone internally or externally on the basis of potential, there is a greater need to support that person, both from their perspective and your own.
Some or all of their failures could be viewed as of your making! Their failure, your failure.
So make sure that the person appointed is given a development plan, mentoring and appropriate growth opportunity to ensure their and your success.