5 Tools to Assess Employees’ Potential

employee potential

How should we decide who to develop and train for a higher position?

A lot of people go right in for the employee who outperforms everybody else. However, there might turn out to be a better practice after all.

Performance vs. Potential

High performers are painfully easy to spot and identify. They simply stand out in terms of productivity and quality of work.

In short, they are usually the first person we think of when faced with a difficult project. However, high performers may not necessarily be fit for a higher role.

On the other hand, managers may struggle with identifying high-potential employees.

Potential is a rather vague idea, and it varies from company to company. A high-potential employee shows traits that clue us into possible leadership skills that can be honed and developed.

These people may also have a good capacity for learning and are particularly well-aligned with company values and goals.

The problem is not all organizations define and codify potential. Thus, managers do not know what to look for.

So, we compiled a list of tools that managers and HR officers can use to assess employees’ potentials better.

1. Talent Bench Review

The Anderson Leadership Group developed the talent bench review system to help managers determine who among their employees (a) needs further development, (b) shows potential to be trained as a leader, and (c) can be transferred to a different, if not higher, role.

A very practical tool, the talent bench review heavily relies on actual examples of the employee’s behavior. Using this system, an employee is evaluated on three points.

How they perform

This aspect measures how an employee performs at tasks for which they are responsible. They are categorized into (a) weak performer, (b) solid performer, and (c) strong performer.

How far they can go

For this evaluation, an employee is rated based on the maximum job level that they can achieve given great conditions to grow. This is usually based on the employee’s raw ability, how motivated they are to succeed, and how dedicated they are to the company.

How ready they are

Finally, it is important to see if the timing is right for the employee. This aspect deals with how ready an employee is to develop their skill further within the next 12 months.

2. The 9-Box Grid

One of the most common tools to evaluate employees, the 9-box grid is used to assess both potential and performance. It is a flexible tool that can help both managers and employees have a common ground on what a great employee looks like.

In most cases, the 9-box grid is filled out with labels. The x-axis may be allotted for potential—low, medium, and high. Then, the y-axis can be allotted for performance using low, medium, and high qualifiers as well.

Most 9-box grid models also have descriptions of what qualifies for each cross of performance and potential.

For example, a low performer and low potential employee may be labeled as a “Talent Risk,” described as a bad hire with a recommendation for further evaluation or counsel.

On the other hand, a high performer and high potential employee may be labeled as “Consistent Star,” with a general description of how one example of this type performs and a recommendation to mentor and groom this type of employee.

The 9-box grid model is particularly great for starting dialogues and creating development plans with employees. It’s also great for tracking an employee’s development.

It is very easy to use. Managers simply must classify their employees into the nine categories and go from there.

Companies can also customize the 9-box grid to suit their needs. However, it is very important to not only include labels and descriptions but also development actions that dictate what step managers should take.

3. Hogan High Potential Model

In contrast to the behavior and real-life foundations of the 9-box grid, the Hogan High Potential model is largely based on inherent traits or personality.

According to Hogan, managers should assess potential based on characteristics that stay true without the politics, relationships, and context. It also asserts that managers must look for three key traits in employees that can potentially be leaders: ability, skills, and drive.

Hogan also identified three points of evaluation for managers.

Leadership foundation

This evaluates an employee’s ability to manage their career. It also checks whether an employee is great to work with and is a good member of the organization.

Leadership emergence

Does the employee stand out from the crowd and lead people?

Leadership emergence evaluates an employee’s natural tendency to be more distinguished among their peers, their ability to create and maintain business relationships, and their ability to exert influence onto others and be recognized as a leader.

Leadership effectiveness

Finally, managers decide whether the employee has the skills and leadership ability to motivate an entire team and lead them to become high performers.

4. 360-Review Model

This method uses feedback not only from managers but from the employee’s colleagues as well. Managers can use a 360-review software which a maximum of 12 colleagues of different levels provide feedback on an employee.

A 360 review provides a holistic analysis of the employee based on various traits such as leadership potential, teamwork, management skills, behavior, etc.

Because of its inclusive nature, 360 reviews encourage dialogue, so managers and employees often have the chance to lay down some solid groundwork for the employee’s development not only from the manager’s perspective but from their colleague’s as well.

360 reviews also promote self-awareness and increase accountability among employees.

5. Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument

This instrument is a flexible assessment tool that can be used alone or as part of a larger program. Managers use Thomas-Killman Conflict Mode instrument to assess employees’ approaches towards conflict and their ability to resolve conflicts in the workplace.

The method classifies people into five categories based on their assertiveness and cooperativeness when involved in a conflict.


A person who is competing shows assertiveness and lack of cooperation. People of this type have the instinct to treat conflict as a competition that they have to win.


People who have the avoiding trait are both unassertive and uncooperative. Their instinct is to not solve nor recognize the problem at hand and, instead, wait the storm out.


Collaborating during conflict shows both assertiveness and cooperation. People with collaborating traits often treat problems as a challenge for everyone to work on.


When someone is accommodating in a conflict, they display unassertiveness and cooperativeness. An individual who is accommodating often winds up agreeing with the other person as a way to resolve a problem.


Finally, a compromising person has moderate levels of assertiveness and cooperation. This type of person will try to reach a middle point when resolving conflicts, in which both parties “win” something.

Using this instrument is very practical as it immediately shows how an employee relates to people at the most crucial times. It is also very easy to complete, with only 30 items to finish.

Be Clear on What Potential Is

Assessing potential doesn’t need to be complicated. Managers simply need to start with a clear definition of what they consider to be “potential.”