power of potential

Why employers need spot the power of potential

Globalisation, emerging markets, changing demographics, the ongoing technological revolution, diversity, regulation, mergers, acquisitions, competition and economic highs and lows; just some of the very real plates all employers are spinning as the struggle for competitive advantage continues.

Talent or potential? 

Competitive advantage comes in many forms, the best technology, high quality products, great marketing, but the true driver of any advantage is people, and the ability for an organisation to recruit, develop and hold on to the best. Often referred to as “the war for talent”, a phrase coined by McKinsey in the 90’s, it is still relevant today, especially in an improving economy where employees have more choice than they did a few years ago. But is ‘talent’ the right word to use? Does ‘talent’ really give that prime source of differentiation? [Tweet “Is it time perhaps for us to stop focusing on ‘talent’ and place more emphasis on “potential”?”]

Read: Advancing High Potential Women in Your Company

We’ve developed somewhat of an obsession with the word ‘talent’ to such an extent that it’s become synonymous with ‘high potential’, ‘successor’, ‘future leader’, the top 20% of employees, with only a handful of forward thinking ‘social conscious’ companies using it inclusively to mean ‘everyone’.

Neither is right or wrong per se, but it doesn’t help us really understand, as employers, how to find the skills we will need tomorrow, today. Or how to tap into the real power of potential.

Post-recession the employment market is buoyant, and whilst it’s still the case that most employees with the desire for career fulfillment are more likely to look externally for their next challenge (58% according to Penna research) in stark contrast more and more organisations are looking to internal mobility to solve recruitment dilemmas.  [Tweet “Modern thinking companies are waking up to the power of potential within.”]

A definition of potential

Adjective: Having or showing the capacity to develop into something in the future

Noun: Latent qualities or abilities that may be developed and lead to future success or usefulness

These companies aren’t looking for a cheap solution to a recruitment issue; they see genuine benefit in retaining competent workers and investing in their latent skills. In short they see teachable fit as a great solution and source of future competitive advantage. Why is this? In some respects it’s due to companies waking up to the importance of providing opportunities for career development, in itself a huge driver for engagement, but isn’t it also true that it’s easier and critically less risky to assess the future potential of an existing employee? After all, recruiting for potential is a relatively new and unproven art but we should already know a lot about our existing colleagues, shouldn’t we?

Read: Skills for high potential women MBAs

The certainty of uncertainty

Let’s assume that the people we already employ have the attitude, skills and competencies they need for today and think about the qualities we want to see from someone with the power of potential to offer more tomorrow

In today’s dynamic environment, the only certainty is uncertainty, so it follows that agility (both for learning and in a cultural sense), adaptability and resilience are key futureproof measures of potential. Curiosity should also be on the list, Curiosity leads to asking questions about how we can do things differently, efficiently, cost effectively; better for customer experience and better for the bottom line. Adaptability to new situations, teams and challenges, motivation, ambition and determination – all traits that existing employees can be assessed for through involvement in projects, secondments, lateral ‘on the job’ development and through closer relationships with managers.

Read: Executive sponsors for high potential women

Reaching potential

The quandary for employers is understanding what percentage of a role is teachable.  Our clients often look for a seventy percent fit, and ask themselves the following questions about the remaining thirty percent; is it teachable? Are we equipped to teach it? Are we one hundred percent committed to providing the development and support required for a successful outcome? The last point is critical, there can be no benefit gained from identifying someone with potential and then not investing in helping them realise it.

The real concern for most organisations isn’t the presence of potential within; it’s identifying it!

In recent months there has been a renewed focus on ‘career development’ in HR circles, and we believe this holds the key to uncovering untapped potential, By equipping employees with greater self-awareness and understanding of what they want from their careers, what motivates, drives and satisfies them at work, the language, support and confidence to talk about their aspirations and the tools and employability skills to manage their careers with us more effectively – the potential within will reveal itself in the end!

Originally posted on LinkedIn on November 20th 2015

Need help building your potential? Contact 3Plus now!

Nicky Smith Contributor
Nicky is Regional Director at Career Directed Solutions (CDS) who are a niche consulting firm.
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