Written by:

Holly Macdonald


June 7, 2010

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I work with organizations who are struggling to figure out how to attract, develop and retain talent.  In the HR world, it is called Talent Management.  Recently I read an article in Harvard Business Review that really resonated with me:  How to Keep your Top Talent.  They suggest that you: 

“Explicitly test candidates in three dimensions: ability, engagement and aspiration” 

I’m also heavily involved in an online community for HR folks (closed community for HR association) where we debated whether or not leadership was “HR’s business”.  Most folks said that it was and that in order to be strategic partners, HR needs to build a strong leadership culture.  Which got me thinking about the article. 

I wonder if HR makes macro decisions when micro decisions are needed?  We need a leadership culture?  Well, we’ll have everyone go through this expensive, but highly regarded program.  Instead, we need HR (or someone in the organization) to be performance consultants/marketers and figure out what “they” need to do before launching into the sheep dip.

The article goes on to say:

“The sobering truth is that only about 30% of today’s high performers are, in fact, high potentials.  The remaining 70% may have what it takes to win now but lack some critical component for future success.”  

 They are either:

  • Engaged Dreamers have high levels of engagement and aspiration, but insufficient ability to succeed in more challenging roles.  Only about 7% of current high performers fall into this category.  Unless the organization can significantly – and quickly – raise these employees’ talent and skill levels, the probably that they will succeed at the next level is effectively zero.
  • Disengaged Stars – Frighteningly, more than 30% of today’s high performers suffer from a lack of engagement.  They have the ability and aspiration to be high potentials but are insufficiently committed to the organization to be prudent bets for long-term success.  Indeed, employees who exhibit this profit have only a 13% chance of succeeding at the next level.  This group represents a sizable opportunity, however: organizations can heavily influence employees’ engagement levels – if they’re paying attention.
  • Misaligned Stars – This group account for 33% of current high performers.  Misaligned stars have both the ability and engagement needed to successfully take on more critical responsibility, but either don’t aspire to the roles available at more senior levels or don’t choose to make the sacrifices required to attain and perform those high-level jobs.  Their lack of aspiration is less damaging to their potential than a lack of engagement or ability, as evidenced by their 44% chance of success at the next level.  But organizations must triage them to separate those whose aspirations might change from those whose long-term career and personal goals would be better accommodated in another organization.

 Here’s the link to the diagnostic mentioned in HBR: https://www.executiveboard.com/humancapital/CLC-highpotential.html.  I haven’t read through the legalities of using it, but the article mentions that it is an abbreviated version and “readers can use it to assess their own employees’ potential”, so sounds like you should be ok to use if you wish, but I’m no legal expert, so use at your own risk.