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Updated: Jun 7, 2023

“someone's or something's ability to develop, achieve, or succeed”

We are regularly asked how to identify and assess potential. Given the definition of potential it is easy to understand why this is critical to an organisation’s success. However when considering potential in a work context, is it important to define what you actually mean?

Are you referring to potential for career success, leadership potential, or potential for growth and development in a particular area?

A number of the organisations that contact us and we work with are struggling to define and assess potential, and it’s easy to see why. When you don’t know what the future will bring, how do you establish who has the ability, motivation and values to develop the right strengths to meet those challenges?

Past performance has often been viewed as one of the most important areas to consider, however it doesn’t help individuals early in their careers, or those that haven’t had an equal chance to demonstrate their potential. To quote the Harvard Business Review:

“Past performance doesn’t tell you who can do things they haven’t done before.”

Looking at other areas that are more innate to individuals can create a much wider pool of candidates and give access and opportunity to those early in their careers who might not have had the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities before.

Behaviours can be developed, skills can be learnt and experience can be gained. We believe that high performance is not just about what an individual currently does, but about their ability to perform in future situations, to change, and to adapt in the face of new challenges or ambiguity.

Alongside observed behaviour other areas that can be assessed include:

Motivation Research shows that possessing the right competencies is not enough to achieve results unless the motivational factors are also right. Typically high performers require low structure in their environment and display high systems thinking. They enjoy dealing with unpredictable situations and feel comfortable ‘thinking on their feet’. Research shows that high performing individuals are able to focus on the big picture and shoulder multiple responsibilities, and importantly they are capable of taking decisive action. GFB’s Intrinsic or SHL's MQ assessment tools can help define what motivates an individual to excel in their work.

Personality To assess personality is to understand how an individual works and what environment they need in order to perform. A high performer will show emotional stability, and an ability to work in a pressured environment whilst also making tough decisions. Once again they are able to see the bigger picture and have the ability to work well as an individual but also associate well with peers and be able to manage team activities. The OPQ32 is the most comprehensive version of the OPQ. It provides detailed information on 32 specific personality characteristics which underpin performance on key job competencies.

Ability Cognitive ability (numerical, verbal and other forms of critical reasoning ability) is frequently identified as the most effective, single predictor of future performance in many different jobs. Well validated, reliable and relevant ability assessments such as the Watson Glaser, RAVENS or the Verify testing range support the identification of individuals that have the ability to take on board new information and process things quickly.

Values Culture fit is an important factor to consider as no matter how capable or hard working an individual is, if their values do match that of their employer they are unlikely to perform well in that organisation. Although hard to assess values, it will define the kind of choices a person will make in tough situations. When individual principles are in sync with an organisation’s values there can be greater potential for success, both for the individual and the organisation. Therefore it is important to define and assess culture fit. Tools such as the Hogan MVPI can assess the fit between an individual and the organisational culture.

In summary potential is measurable. However it requires a clear definition and a deeper understanding of an individual’s abilities, values, motivation and preferences, and how those align to your culture and the role in question . It is important to start any assessment of potential with clarity of organisational values and requirements. These can then be communicated, shared and mapped against an individual’s attributes, abilities and desires to really identify candidates that can support your organisation’s future success.

Get in touch (tel +44 (0) 333 090 2580 or email if you would like to talk through identifying potential in your organisation, we love these types of projects, have gained loads of experience in the 20 plus years we have been doing this and are open to all kinds of challenges.

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