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…So I spend a lot of time thinking about what sorts of capabilities one needs to develop to get ready for the next level (and the next level after that). I believe that the best way to position oneself for success is to get reps in beforehand… which means an emphasis on learning and development regardless of how close (or far away) a next step is.

But when one has never worked at the next level how does one know how to prepare for it or what success looks like?

These are challenging questions to be sure, which is why I really enjoyed this white paper from Korn Ferry Institute examining the differences between someone that is “high potential” versus someone that is truly ready for the next level. The article has a chart that captures the concept nicely (below):


As the above chart shows, it is one thing to have the capacity to eventually perform at the next level and another to actually be at that level today. An organization’s failure to recognize this difference when promoting talent can both damage said talent’s reputation internally if they fail in their new role, and and also set back the group they’re charged with leading.

…But if this is true, why do organizations so often find themselves forced to place people into roles that they aren’t quite ready for or looking externally to fill key vacancies? Korn Ferry submits that this is because many organizations mistake high work performance in a current role as readiness for a bigger one. In point of fact, however, a mix of self-reporting (asking a candidate to examine his/her strengths and weaknesses), interviews (examining a candidate’s experiences to assess fit), and simulation (giving the candidate experience working in a low risk environment on the sorts of challenges they will face at the next level) are the tools organizations should really be leveraging when considering if someone is ready for a bigger role.

Okay… so I like this concept in theory. But how does an organization know if a candidate has strong enough self-awareness of his/her blind spots to give an adequate assessment of readiness? Studies show that – while overestimating isn’t necessarily a bad thing where it concerns short-term advancement outcomes – some people more accurately assess their competence than others. And interview biases can easily impact the objectivity of a candidate selection process. Finally, simulations sounds like a strong assessment criteria in theory, but in practice they are often quite costly and difficult to tailor to specific roles.

…Ultimately I suppose I’m playing devil’s advocate here. I really like the substance of what KFI is saying… But I don’t think the points I made above should be brushed aside, either.

How is your organization assessing readiness in its HiPos? Is it ensuring they cultivate the critical skills required to succeed at the next level when those roles become available? If so, how?

As always, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.