Article · 5 minute read

Understanding Your Pipeline: What does potential look like for you?

By Hannah Mullaney 5th May 2022

One of the main challenges faced by those trying to identify high-potential individuals is that, for most organizations, the process used is unclear at best, and completely ‘black box’ at worst. Whilst avoiding difficult conversations with those who might not be deemed ‘leadership potential’ might feel like a nice safe option, it also causes its own problems.

Firstly, it often means that there is a lack of clarity over what true potential is across the organization. No wonder so many of our clients come to us saying “Our managers confuse performance with potential …help!” 

Secondly, a lack of transparency usually does terrible things for D, E & I outcomes.  There’s plenty of room for unconscious bias to creep in and organizations usually end up cloning leaders of old, rather than encouraging individuals who don’t currently see themselves at the top to come forward.   

Thirdly, whilst this approach might engage the few, it usually disengages the many.  

The benefits of transparency

When we work with clients to help them identify future leadership potential, we advocate for transparent processes that:

  • invite anyone to self-nominate (sometimes subject to key criteria)
  • include robust, objective assessments that mitigate manager bias and improve D, E & I outcomes
  • help you understand why someone is high potential and highlight what they might still need to hone
  • explain why someone is not high potential and suggest where else their career might flourish
  • provide everyone with the opportunity for development; this can be high tech rather than high touch and should be specific, targeted, tangible, and focused on what matters for that individual

Where such approaches are taken, we often find everybody is clearer on what potential is, and true potential is more likely to be identified and realized. Employees – both high potential and sustained performers – are also likely to be more engaged and pipelines are more likely to build and retain diversity. The other main challenge we face when trying to identify potential is simply how to define it. 

Traditional models of potential can be very restrictive in terms of what they say and measure. They tend to present one very clear definition of potential that applies to all leadership roles across all organizations and they fail to account for two things:

  1. Organizational nuance
  2. Different types of leadership roles
Capturing organizational nuance

There are indeed key characteristics for predicting leadership potential across organizations and industries and (as long as these are backed by thorough research and scientific data) are not to be discounted. However, we need to dive deeper. We know from working with our own clients that one generic model of potential may not identify future leaders in two different organizations. Whilst there will be overlap on the core, there will be strategic differences – this flex is what unlocks truly successful leadership.

A simple analogy would be the cake recipe. Start with the evidence-based research on leadership potential generally, or your core cake ingredients – flour, eggs, butter and sugar. To make the recipe stand out from every other cake, we need to flex and finesse to your taste – your organizational nuances – sector, strategic objective, culture, environment, competition in the market etc.

Only by including that flex can we identify the future leaders to deliver the organizational impact you need within your organization.

Different types of leadership roles

In a recent Saville Assessment survey, 96% of organizations said the types of leadership roles they need are diversifying and nearly half (48%) said the number of specialist leadership roles in their organization is increasing.  In the same way organizations shouldn’t restrict themselves to looking at one definition of leadership potential, they shouldn’t limit themselves to looking at one type of leadership role.

The data collected by a robust assessment process should be enough to provide an indication of individuals’ potential against different types of leadership roles or career tracks, not simply against a generic measure of potential. Are they more likely to be professional experts, people inspirers, or pioneering innovators? 

Capturing this data has a dual benefit; understanding the types of leaders coming through increases the chances of successfully closing any gaps and healing any weak links threatening the strength of your pipeline. We often see pinch points in the pioneering space, so by gathering data relating to this, you can be proactive rather than reactive… when it is often too late.

How Can We Help?

Wave-i  is an end-to-end solution for strategically identifying and developing emerging talent and leaders. It offers a new way of measuring potential, aligned to your organizational needs, to accurately reveal the types of career or leadership roles individuals will thrive in. 

This new solution has been shortlisted for ‘Innovation of the Year’ at the 2022 Firm Awards.

To find out more and sample the tool for yourself, please complete the form below.

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