High Performance Not Always Indicative of Future Success

Consider the whole talent picture, broaden your succession pipeline

By Roy Maurer March 12, 2015

Executives worldwide cited an employee having compatible skills and competencies as the No.1 criteria for making a promotion decision, but nearly two-thirds (63 percent) also said that a lack of well-suited traits and dispositions for a company’s culture was the biggest reason promotions fail.

The key takeaway from the study commissioned by talent consultancy Korn Ferry is that high-potential talent is not being accurately identified, and a glaring reason for the talent mismatch is that too often, high performance is mistaken for high potential.

The Korn Ferry report is the second in its Succession Matters series, conducted by Hanover Research in August and September 2014, across 54 countries. More than 1,000 business leaders responded.

“While it’s true to say that most high potentials are high performers, it does not follow that performance is the only indicator of potential,” said Jim Peters, senior partner and global head for succession management at Korn Ferry.

The report draws the distinction between measuring competencies, results and achievements in an employee’s current job, and the person’s future capacity to be effective in a more-challenging role.

“The results show us that people are promoted for what they can do, but fail for who they are,” said Stu Crandell, senior vice president of global offerings at Korn Ferry and the Korn Ferry Institute. “It’s critical to take a whole-person perspective, particularly [considering] drivers and traits, as otherwise you run the risk of identifying the wrong talent. That can mean wasting years of organizational investment and leaders’ time developing for a role they won’t find engaging or successful.”

Consider the Whole Talent Picture

Korn Ferry stresses having a complete talent picture of the whole person, not just a snapshot of current job performance, in order to effectively identify if an employee will be successful in a leadership role.

Seven indicators reveal the kind of individual who has the potential to rise to senior levels within an organization, Korn Ferry research found:

  • A track record of formative experiences, such as involvement with strategy development or critical negotiations.
  • Learning agility, which is the ability and willingness to learn from experience and apply that learning to perform successfully under new or first-time conditions.
  • Self-awareness, an indicator of how an individual will seek out feedback on ways to improve and reflect on strengths and development needs.
  • Leadership traits, such as assertiveness and tolerance of ambiguity.
  • Leadership drive, the relishing of taking on more responsibility.
  • Aptitude for logic and reasoning.
  • Awareness of derailment risks. Leaders need to be aware of their unique derailment risks and learn how to effectively manage them, according to the report.

Deepen, Broaden the Talent Pipeline

The survey showed that 62 percent of respondents said their company’s succession programs do not include managers. Organizations need to start identifying and developing talent further down the pipeline, said Steve Newhall, managing partner, leadership and talent consulting at Korn Ferry. “Simply looking at the top of the house for future leaders is no longer a viable option. Early-career employees, who could be considered for broader leadership roles, need to be identified in addition to midlevel managers so they will have time to develop and be ready for assuming executive roles,” he said.

Investing in high-skilled talent outside the leadership realm is also important.

The study showed only 13 percent of respondents said their company’s succession programs included skilled professionals.

“The high-skilled professionals are the ones that are very difficult to replace because they are your industry experts, so it’s hard to replace that knowledge,” said Paul Van Katwyk, senior partner at Korn Ferry. “You need to value and foster these people, making sure that you are giving them just as much attention as your critical leaders. Organizations need to be careful not to lose these valuable contributors.”

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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