potentials at the lower levels of an
organization than at the higher levels.
Positions at higher levels often involve
an exponential increase in scope and
complexity—the higher one goes, the
more complex are the elements to be
learned. So the ability to continually
learn and adapt, although necessary, is
not sufficient. This is where IQ
becomes an important factor, as do
emotional intelligence and a range of
skills including negotiation, dealing
with ambiguity, developing others, and
managing conflict.
For this reason the assessments
should be augmented by the observa-
tions of several raters. (This applies
especially to the higher levels but also
to the lower levels.) The raters might
include the person’s immediate super-
visor, the manager at the next level
up, and a human resource representa-
tive. It’s not a good idea to depend
solely on the evaluation of the per-
son’s immediate supervisor, whose
perspective may be too limited. It’s
also unrealistic to expect a high-
potential employee to perform a spe-
cific function better than a seasoned
professional in that specialty does.
At the higher levels the CEO and
executive management team can act
as the assessors. This works best
when the succession planning process
has been centralized, the talent in
question is perceived as “belonging”
to the organization rather than to a
specific department, the top execu-
tives have made the effort and taken
the time to work out criteria for
assessment, and the CEO does not
play favorites or allow others to.
As mentioned earlier, organizations
are well advised to not confine their
lists of high potentials to those peo-
ple capable of ascending to CEO or
another top-rung position. In fact, it
can be argued that talent pools and
pipelines should be developed at
many organizational levels and that
they should feed both laterally and
upward. There are a number of rea-
sons for this.
There are no guarantees about
who can or will make it to the top.
When there is a promotion
from one level to another, the posi-
tion vacated at the lower level needs
to be filled.
Critical positions—not just in
management but also technical
jobs—exist throughout an organiza-
tion. A sudden departure in one of
these less visible positions can be
damaging unless there is a pool of
qualified candidates ready to be con-
sidered for the job.
When business conditions
change, business strategy often
changes along with them. Someone
who appeared to be the right candi-
date under a previous strategy may
no longer be the right candidate
under the new strategy.
Finally, it’s important to be able
to consider more than one person to
fill a position. It’s advisable to
develop at least three people for each
position. This not only allows for
turnover and changes in job require-
ments but also provides diversity in
the candidate pool.
Once an organization compiles a list of
high potentials, the question arises
whether the list should be made public.
Arguments can be made on both sides.
One of the dangers of making the
list public is that people may remain
on the list even after it becomes
apparent that they are no longer
learning or growing more quickly
than their peers. But those who put
an individual on the list are often hes-
itant to remove that person from the
list, not only because they are unwill-
ing to admit they were wrong but
also because of the significant nega-
tive ramifications that withdrawal
from the list can have on the individ-
ual’s career and relationships with
others in the organization.
In addition, when high potentials
are on a public list, they may begin to
believe they are exempt from many
of the rules of behavior that apply to
others, and will act accordingly. To
protect themselves and their high-
potential status, they may avoid nec-
essary risks or act in a conservative
way that hinders their ability to learn
and grow. Also, unless the organiza-
tion is very careful about explaining
what it means to be a high potential,
people on a public list may develop
incorrect assumptions.
There are also some good reasons
for making the list public. For
instance, it can facilitate discussions
with the high potentials about devel-
opment and encourage them to take
on developmental assignments. Also,
when the process of identifying and
developing high potentials is open, it
gains credibility among employees.
Perhaps the most important point
for those responsible for identifying
and developing high potentials to
keep in mind is that there are high
potentials in all parts of an organiza-
tion. Not all of them are capable of
rising to CEO, but many can perform
well in their specific functions and
specialties if the development pipeline
is opened to them as well.
David Berke is a senior custom solu-
tions program associate at CCL’s cam-
pus in San Diego. He holds an M.B.A.
degree from the University of Southern
California and an M.A. degree from
the State University of New York at
Stony Brook.
People on a public list
of high potentials may
develop incorrect

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