Do you know who has the capability to lead your business in the future?  Do know if you have the people with the capability and potential you need to succeed?  In a previous article we examined the importance of succession planning and how many organisations have identified that the single biggest risk to their future business is people – or more precisely the lack of people with the right skills and experience.

But how does an organisation go about identifying people with potential? 

Clearly the first step in the process is to identify and agree a ‘specification’ of someone with high potential.  In other words a description of the skills, capabilities and experiences that the business needs from its key people in the future.  These may include:

  • Specific behavioral traits.
  • Intellect.
  • Technical skills.
  • Experience.
  • Personal Impact and credibility.
  • Personal motivation.

In addition, the business should identify what ‘standard’ of ability is required.  This could be in comparison to a group of other high performing managers within the business or alternatively in comparison to a benchmark group from other organizations/industries.  For example, a specific role may require the candidate to have critical thinking skills that are in the top 5% of a specific population.

While evidence to measure/assess some of the above can be collected from how a candidate has performed in their previous roles, the only way to eliminate the prejudices and inconsistencies of different managers viewpoints it to undertake an independent assessment of each person.  In this way decisions about who has/does not have the potential to fulfill a key role can be taken in a consistent manner across the business.

So what does independent assessment consist of?

Essentially independent assessment it is a mechanism for collecting further evidence to enable managers to make decisions about an individual’s motivations, capabilities and potential.

While it is imperative that the process is designed to meet the needs of the organisation, it will typically consist of collecting evidence in a number of ways, for example:


  1. From the candidates themselves by completing questionnaires and profiles.
  2. From feedback from people who know the work of the candidates.
  3. From a formal assessment centre.


The first two invariably consist of using tools such as: 360 degree Leadership feedback questionnaires, career values questionnaires and other specific psychometric profiling instruments (e.g. TMS, 16PF, or OPQ 32).  This information is usually collected before a formal assessment centre.


A formal assessment centre usually involves one day during which the candidates are observed undertaking a number of challenging individual and team tasks such as:


  • ‘Intelligence’ tests for example critical thinking, verbal and numerical reasoning.
  • Business case studies.
  • Leadership and team activities
  • Structured interviews.


    The information from the whole process is subsequently reviewed and each candidate’s results prepared and benchmarked against other internal or external high performing managers.


    Once this is complete, it is good practice to review and validate the outcomes from the process by using a panel of senior managers who will also make the final decisions about who will and who will not be earmarked for future roles.


    Finally, care needs to be taken about how feedback is given to the candidates.  It is important that the detailed outcomes from the whole assessment process are provided and not just a pass/fail result.