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What is Potential?

ladder 400x265Research and recommendations on defining and assessing potential.

The research on potential from two big hitters in management consulting, YSC and Korn Ferry has many companies combining their two famous models. But what does that really mean and how can it work?

YSC’s model of Judgement, Drive and Influence (JDI) shows us the most critical attitude, behaviour and skills required for successful leaders. In any situation a leader finds themselves in, these three qualities will be required for success. We need to be able to recognise problems, analyse information and produce solutions.

We also need the self assurance and ambition to move things on and get things done. And we need strong emotional intelligence to take people with us and gain buy in.  As always, there will be some of these things each of us is naturally better at, and some we will need support with.

YSC back this up with impressive breadth of study across nations and industries, and the practical application of that research is clear and straight forward.

So what about Korn Ferry?  Equally robust with their breadth and depth of research, it is a different model and set of qualities this company raises up as critical for success.  Learning Agility is the ability and willingness to learn from experience and later apply that learning to succeed in never faced before situations.

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It is precisely because leaders are always facing new situations they have never dealt with before, that this curiosity, appetite for learning and speed of learning application, is key.  The first time a department head is asked to set up a new unit in an emerging market, most of what they know goes out the window. What makes me successful here does not usually make me successful there.

Korn Ferry have identified different types of agility, and again each of us are stronger at some of these than others.

So to be successful we need to be agile or quick to learn and adapt, with regards to people, change, mental problem solving and delivering results.  Two great models, well researched and backed up.

It’s not surprising then that many businesses are combining these two models to give an over arching definition of potential. But how exactly does that work?

Depending on the preference of the business it can be YSC with a bit of Korn Ferry, or Korn Ferry with a bit of YSC.

We have come across more companies taking that first approach.  They assess potential by interviewing against judgement, drive and influence, and add in deep dive questions on learning applied within each of those qualities.  The important thing to ask is what are we trying to achieve?

If we want to select people who might have the potential to be successful future leaders in business x, then arguably we should conduct our own research on what makes success here. But that can be costly and difficult to future proof.  So instead many of us work with a best fit model, that we tweak to better fit our culture and estimated needs for the future.

With the budget and resources to put to it, doing your own research, backed up by the expert findings from these companies, can be the best option.  And if the resources aren’t there, so much insight is available from this research, you can still have something built for you on that basis.

We’ve used both approaches and every client is simply happy to have something bespoke for them, safe in the knowledge it has been built on solid foundations.

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But after all that, here is a very different way of thinking…

What if instead of starting with a company’s or academic’s review of what success looks like, and assessing who has the potential to meet that list, we started with the individual?

What if we asked each individual where their potential for growth might be?  And supported every individual to become their best self?  This is the other angle of potential… The more human side, which taps into the statements that come up with every model of potential or success… Some of us are better at some of these things than others.

So rather than trying to help everyone grow five aspects of learning agility, on top of judgement, drive and influence, what if we simply helped them tap into their own natural potential?  This would be a significant shift from the current thinking around models of potential, and yet it seems more realistic.

We know from Gallup’s Q12 and wider research into strengths, that doing what we do best every day is critical to great results.  So let’s work to those strengths and natural potential.

Perhaps once again there is an opportunity to combine the ideas.

With a model of potential based on JDI and learning agility, combined with a focus on understanding where an individual’s natural potential lies, maybe we find the answer we really need: Who has what it takes?