Assessing Human Potential to Predict Future Success

The right technology solution can solve the mystery of assessing employee potential.

By Roger Edwards, Senior Vice President, Strategic Consulting, Pilat HR Solutions

When the economy is in turmoil, it’s important to retain talented individuals to maintain business momentum and survive through the tough times. Coming out of a recession, it’s even more essential to have skilled talent in the right job to support growth.

With people as the strongest competitive advantage for most organizations, identifying the potential within it and optimizing and retaining right-fit employees are frequently the difference between a company that succeeds and one that falters. Making best use of and realizing potential increases engagement and retention, and it makes economic and operational sense, often saving as much as twice the annual salary cost.

Objectively assessing potential and identifying an individual’s ability to succeed when faced with future challenges is difficult for many companies. But identifying employees who have the right characteristics and attributes—and specifically agility in learning, adapting to changing situations, understanding the business models, and building networks of useful contacts—should be part of every organization’s plan and will contribute to a high-performance organization. It may sound like hard work, but the right technology solution can solve the mystery of assessing potential by helping organizations measure key factors that accurately predict success.

Going with More Than Your Gut

Many organizations have yet to solve the puzzle of accurately assessing potential because many current processes for assessing talent are flawed—either worthless at best or misleading or indefensible at worst. That’s because there is rarely an objective and defensible framework to measuring potential.

The crux of the problem is that most managers are not able to produce valid and reliable assessments of on-the-job performance (calibrated across the organization) and often use subjective feelings, resulting in inaccurate and unreliable results. Others use force ranking, calibration meetings, or capped compensation models, which fail to give true insight into potential. And if managers cannot correctly assess performance frequently, they will not be able to effectively predict potential.

Technology solutions such as automated nine boxes only serve to create the illusion of solving the problem. Frequently, “potential” is defined by current competency performance, which may have no bearing on what the person has the potential to achieve. While it does produce a calibrated result, it is not a true assessment of cognitive abilities such as capacity to learn. New assessment technology and processes can bring objectivity to the assessment process and create a more accurate solution to predict future potential.

Web-based ability and intelligence tests, psychometric personality profiles, preference and value profiles, and 360 data all provide a data-centric view of job candidates and internal talent. Identifying key factors that contribute to future success is the starting point for organizations to accurately predict potential and ensure right-fit talent is in the appropriate roles for future success.

Factors for Measuring Potential

When measuring potential, it’s important to define what “potential” means for your organization and ensure synergy between an individual’s skills, talents, and attributes and the company’s requirements. For example, if the organization is driving a long-term cultural transformation, having leaders with the potential to quickly flex, adapt, and be role models for the required new culture will deliver the business transformation quicker and more effectively.

These factors are important when gauging potential, and can be applied in different ways:

General Intelligence: The ability of an individual to assimilate quickly new and complex data, make sense of it, spot themes and trends, balance hard and soft data, and make contextually significant decisions.

Emotional Drivers: The core drive and resilience to face the competitive world, balanced with self-awareness, humility, agility, and the ability to learn continuously and engage others to achieve beyond their own expectations.

Business Acumen: In today’s world, this is not only about understanding business and financial models, but also understanding business politics, and creating and navigating networks to achieve results.

Historic Performance Record: Last year’s annual performance rating is not enough; rather, is there a sufficient record of the person facing new challenges and bringing to bear those capabilities and behaviors that enable them to succeed time and again?

It is essential to create a framework for measuring performance while keeping in mind that the required skills for the future may change. This is why models that assess self-awareness and learning ability are becoming increasingly important.

Identify What Potential Looks Like, Then Measure It

Once organizations identify what potential looks like, then they can begin assessing it. Tools for assessing potential include ability and intelligence tests, psychometric personality profiles and competency assessment tools, assessment centers for assessing emotional intelligence, and development tools such as 360 feedback solutions.

While these tools offer the benefits of accuracy and insight, they are not without challenges. Organizations need to interpret and combine results from multiple assessments, and some tools may not measure some of the newly identified critical criteria such as learning agility.

One critical factor in measuring potential is that every individual has the same opportunity to excel. This is not the case in many assessment centers as performance is related directly to the other participants. Online business simulations combine a variety of measures—not just observable behavior, but the ability to learn from new data. This demonstrates how people adapt to unfamiliar situations, use new data in their thinking, and how they relate to others. The advantage is a single-process, multiple-assessment methodology that tests a range of abilities and skills, providing the same environment for success to each individual while reducing costs and speeding up the assessment process.

The right technology partner, therefore, will present a solution that has a robust model of potential and collects quality data on multiple dimensions from various sources and automatically compiles data for holistic insight. This is best achieved through Web-based applications that provide a standardized experience that reduces administration and costly assessment centers.

Other ways the right technology solution can help is by compiling multi-rater assessments against specific criteria to determine a stronger predictor of potential; providing real-time data validation and rater feedback; and effectively integrating data from multiple sources. Gaining insight into individuals with high potential based on the factors outlined above also can determine flight risk and opportunities for growth and development.

Being able to accurately predict potential and to realize that potential ensures right-fit high- potential talent that creates real competitive advantage in employer branding, engagement and retention, and business performance at minimal cost. .

Roger Edwards is senior vice president of Strategic Consulting at Pilat HR Solutions. He has more than 30 years of experience helping organizations identify their critical HR processes; supporting performance, succession management, implementation, and execution. Additionally, Edwards provides expertise in executive coaching, leadership development, and talent management for global companies. Pilat HR Solutions is a human capital management technology and professional services company. For more than 35 years Pilat has been partnering with clients to drive significant and sustainable performance improvement and realize the true potential of human capital. Pilat supplies a range of standard products and professional services; all are designed and built using Pilat’s methodology to deliver strategic human capital solutions. For more information, contact redwards@pilat.comor visit

Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.