How Do You Determine Who Is ‘High Potential’?


The most important part of a succession plan is determining and developing your organization’s future leaders. The goal is to develop a pool of employees for a wide range of executive or management positions.

If you were to target a certain few employees for specific positions, you would run the risk of your plan being derailed in any number of ways — for instance, an employee slated for a specific position could decide to leave for another opportunity, leaving you without a “Plan B.” By steadily developing a pool of employees, you eliminate the risk of having no one ready to step up when the time comes.

When determining which employees to develop, it is important to remember that just because an employee is a high performer in his current position, it does not automatically translate that he will be a high performer in an upper level position. The level of complexity increases the higher up the ladder you go. Different positions require different attributes. Generally, 3 percent to 5 percent of your total employee population will be your high potential group. This is the group you want to target for development in your succession planning process.

Identifying your high potential people requires an assessment process, considering such factors as work history, performance reviews, training and initiative in taking on new projects, among others.

You should take into account which positions may need to be filled sooner. Then, determine which employees you may want to put on the “fast track” to be ready to fill these positions. These positions will be more specifically geared to certain people, because of the time frame involved. This is more along the lines of “replacement planning” than “succession planning” because the need is more immediate.

By putting sufficient time and effort into the process of developing the right employees for the most suitable position for them, you may be able to avoid situations like this. By taking great care in the process, it can be a win-win situation for everyone.

Stacey Bruce, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, is the director of HR Services at the Manufacturer & Business Association. Contact her at 814/833-3200 or