Scientific Research on Identifying High-Potential Employees ::

High-potential employees are those with the talent to make a big impact on an organization. They have the capacity to make an outsized contribution to the productivity of the business. Usually just a small percentage of the workforce makes most of the contribution toward productivity – the top 20 percent contributes to 80 percent of the output.

These top performers are the people who will drive the success or failure of the business. But when hiring, how can you find out who these people are? How do you identify them? Taking a scientific approach, research has identified three major characteristics of high-potential employees.


This refers to people’s ability to do the job, whether they have the requisite knowledge and skill to perform the tasks of the job. The best way to find out if people have the required ability is to give them a work test. In other words, having the candidates actually do the tasks that are part of the job and observing how they perform.

However, to determine how the people might perform in the future at a more complex position, the predictor here is intelligence; their cognitive ability. Other qualities needed for more senior leadership positions include vision and imagination, as well as a facility with systems thinking.

Social Skills

High-performing employees also have the needed social skills, the ability to get along with co-workers and supervisors. There are two facets to social skills – the ability to handle yourself and to develop good working relationships with others. Managing yourself involves handling stress, dealing with adversity, and maintaining integrity.

Developing good working relationships involves forming alliances and being able to influence and persuade others. These skills are part of a person’s emotional intelligence, which can be gauged through psychometric tests.


This is the third element that defines high performers. It is the motivation to work hard and the ambition to achieve goals. This is key in determining potential because it is the factor that pushes a person to make use of their talent,  which is composed of their ability and social skills, to move forward into the future and take control of it. There are standardized tests that measure drive. But this is a quality that is easily observed as well by seeing how hard people work, their interest in taking on new and challenging projects, and the sacrifices they are willing to make for their job.

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