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Hiring & Retaining Top Talent: Focus on Potential

Clients tell us over and over again that their number one concern has been hiring and retaining top talent. A recent Harvard Business Review article entitled “21st Century Talent Spotting” tackles this head on. It says that rather than emphasizing competencies of any particular job, hiring and promoting talent should be based on the candidate’s potential.

I particularly like this hiring criteria because we work with potential all the time in leadership development. Potential is, the article describes, “the ability to adapt to ever-changing business environments and grow into challenging new roles.” In today’s fast changing business world, this makes sense.

The authors point to four qualities of candidates that are indicative of potential:

  1. Curiosity – not knowing the answer, but seeking learning and change.

  2. Insight – making new sense of data or behaviors.

  3. Engagement – communicating and connecting with people.

  4. Determination – resilience; committing to goals no matter how difficult.

From a hiring standpoint, the trick is to ask questions that determine whether or not a person has these qualities and specific examples to support their answers. (Obviously, other factors, like strong motivation, humility, performance, intelligence and experience play a role, but the findings focus on the characteristics of high potential to be the prime indicator of success.)

From a leadership development and retention of talent perspective, we look to see how what high potentials and their teams most need. The article cites to Daniel Pink’s excellent book Drive, which outlines three fundamental requirements: (1) autonomy; (2) mastery; and (3) purpose. In leadership development of high potentials, we evaluate their freedom and responsibilities (autonomy). We ask about their learning and accountability (mastery). We align their inner drive to why they work there (purpose). Additionally, we ask them to go outside of their comfort zone to help them get to where they want to go. It is this going out of the comfort zone, most especially, that engages their commitment and growth in the organization.

Potential is not the easiest thing to measure. But it is possible by the kinds of questions we can ask. And the key attribute to hiring and keeping the best of the best.

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