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Learning and Development | 4 Min Read

High-Potential Identification Program: Strategy, Process, & Tools


With a growing demand for employees who can traverse their way through the current volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) business environment and a limited supply of qualified talent, organizations are looking inwards to tap into the existing workforce potential. This development has heightened the importance of the high-potential identification process for creating a future pipeline of well-equipped talent. 

Organizations need to undertake a two-fold approach for their high-potential identification program – one that enables them to reflect inwards on their business vision and goals, and the second that measures the prevailing business environment. Much like the meaning of HiPo, the high-potential identification process can vary across organizations.

What Is a High-Potential Program?

A high-potential identification program is a scientific method of identifying an organization’s high-potential employees. It lays down a step-by-step HiPo strategy keeping in mind an organization’s requirements. A high-potential identification program is a blueprint on which the actual HiPo program is built. It determines core competencies, identifies tools for assessing employee potential, and underlines the goal of the whole program, which could be training needs identification, retaining high-potential employees, leadership or succession planning, etc.

Mercer| Mettl’s High-Potential Identification Process

Mercer | Mettl’s high-potential identification process helps organizations recognize high-potential employees through a structured and accurate process:

Sensing Exercise: The Strategy Before the Action

We recently surveyed 150+ organizations to understand the workings of the high-potential identification program (Mercer | Mettl, 2020 HiPo Identification Survey). We discovered that more than 30% of organizations lacked a future-forward set of competencies and a clear definition of ‘high-potential’ to even embark on the high-potential identification journey.

Thus, the first step towards a coherent high-potential identification process is a sensing exercise that involves understanding the building blocks of the program, the roles, the levels, and the competencies under consideration. Focused group discussions and visionary workshops are integral to the sensing exercise to identify essential competencies, reach a shared understanding and, based on it, choose the tool composition.

Employee Evaluation: Finding the Right Tool

In the survey mentioned above, more than 20% of organizations believed that the organizational expertise and tools needed for assessing employee potential were unavailable to them.

Our subject matter experts map the defined competencies to a suite of high-potential assessment tools best suited to the organization’s needs based on complexity and cost. Mercer | Mettl’s customizable and scalable tools can be used independently, or in conjunction, to identify untapped potential.

Talent Pool Finalization: The Results Are Out!

The swift and automated reports generated by our high-potential assessment tools help organizations identify the accelerated talent pool, initiate talent mobility, and implement developmental strategies.

Developmental Plans: The Way Forward

It is established that the greater challenge lies in executing the high-potential identification program. But a whopping 80% of organizations affirmed that they didn’t have a systematic plan to track the post-identification developmental journey of the identified employees. 22% of them admitted to having insufficient expertise in devising action plans and developmental strategies.

Given that potential cannot be equated with readiness, Mercer | Mettl equips organizations with development plans that pronounce the way forward. The company provides individual development plans that help bridge the gaps identified by employee evaluations. We help organizations with post-program assessments to determine the need for any intervention, further ensuring that the designated high-potential employees are on the desired track.

Result Validation

Our end-to-end solution, specially designed for high-potential identification of employees, helps organizations validate results through predictive modeling and correlation exercises. We, at Mercer | Mettl, don’t believe in the one-size-fits-all approach, and thus our subject matter experts, researchers, and account executives handhold you at every step of the process to ensure a successful partnership.

High Potential Identification: Effectively Identify High Potential Employees in Your Organization


Tools to Identify High-Potential Employees

Personality profiling assessments are psychometric tools to identify high potential employees. Employers use them to identify candidates with the personality traits needed for a specific role and decide whether they are the best fit for both the position and the organization. However, establishing in advance the benchmark for high-potentials within the organization will enhance the efficacy of these tools.

High-potential assessment tools refer to employee development initiatives employed to identify outstanding employees and nurture them. It enables organizations to determine leadership potential, build high-performing teams and engage top talent. Such tools would allow organizations to streamline their efforts on identifying and retaining the most promising talent. Companies can use these tools to achieve desired business outcomes.

Talent assessments have now advanced to enable organizations to make data-backed decisions. Ranging from physical assessment centers to job simulations, from roleplays to personality tests, high-potential identification tools, today, are designed to meet the demands of the present-day business environment.

The foremost requirement for selecting an efficient tool is to have the right competency framework based on current and future business needs on which to assess employees. It is followed by having a clear vision of the desired result from the high-potential identification program. 

Here is a list of most suitable tools to identify high-potential employees:

Assessment/Development Centers (ACDC) & Simulations

Assessment and development centers bring together roleplays, situational judgment tests, group discussions, presentations, interviews, simulations, psychometric and aptitude tests, and similar such activities to take crucial people’s decisions.

Often confused with one another, assessment and development centers both use assessments and interactive activities to evaluate and develop the workforce. Assessment centers primarily match an employee to a particular role through a detailed analysis of various aspects required to succeed on the job. In contrast, development centers are used to develop employees by identifying their strengths and skill gaps. Together, they make excellent tools to identify high-potential employees.

According to the ‘Guidelines and Ethical Considerations for Assessment Center Operations,’ published in the Journal of Management, the ten essential elements of assessment centers are:


Assessment and Development Centers enable assessors to objectively evaluate candidates using multiple tools through situations that imitate real-life workplace scenarios and observe skills and behaviors specific to pre-defined competencies.

ACDC is a tool that has garnered significant interest among industry stakeholders recently. However, only 17% of organizations responding to our survey professed to use ACDCs for high-potential identification due to the lack of existing expertise or knowledge in an organization.

Mercer | Mettl’s ACDC toolkit helps in systematic assessment of an employee’s potential through hassle-free, end-to-end process management. It allows organizations to identify strengths and developmental needs and chalk out a systematic action plan to work on the developmental needs of the identified high-potentials. It provides an excellent opportunity to reflect on leadership behavior in a simulated environment.

Mercer | Mettl’s ACDC toolkit consists of virtual as well as blended ACDCs.

Virtual ACDC

Mercer | Mettl’s complete suite of online programs primarily simulates traditional ACDCs for a holistic understanding of employees. Extremely time and cost-efficient, without any logistical hassles, they are best suited for mid-level managers and individual contributors. The most significant USP of virtual ACDCs is their instant and automated reports, along with reduced overhead expenses. 

Mercer | Mettl’s Virtual ACDC toolkit consists of:

Personality Inventory

The Mettl Personality Profiler measures an individual’s strengths and growth opportunities based on underlying personality traits and work style preferences. It is based on the “Big Five” personality traits:

  • Extraversion
  • Openness to experience
  • Emotional stability
  • Agreeableness
  • Conscientiousness

Collectively, these factors can predict job-related outcomes, such as performance, job satisfaction, trainability, burnout, etc. 

Mercer | Mettl’s team of experts have developed 26 sub-constructs that span a vast domain of personality traits and can be mapped to an organization’s or job role’s specific requirements.

Cognitive Ability Test

The Cognitive Ability Test measures a person’s ability to think fast, make meaning of ambiguity, reach meaningful conclusions, and formulate new concepts and strategies for innovation. Often essential for roles that involve decision making and strategic thinking, the test evaluates two of the most critical competencies required to thrive in a position – abstract reasoning and critical thinking. 

Situational Judgement Test

Situational judgment tests mimic real life problems to a large extent and are a highly effective exercise to witness candidates react to specific situations – when put in a spot, faced with a challenge, or during conflict resolution. Responses are captured based on the most appropriate choice or course of action. This exercise helps assessees display behavioral competencies that are important for the organization. Due to its proximity to the real setup, it often has a higher correlation with the role’s required skills and behaviors.

Case Study Simulator

It comprises of offline case studies on real business-related problems and dynamics. Candidates can step out of their typical job and examine more critical business problems with a comprehensive perspective. Candidates Can experience critical interdependencies, execute best practices, and explore alternatives for a strategy, etc. They are asked to study the problem statement extensively and devise a structured approach to tackle the problem.

Other activities that can be designed to measure time management, sound decision making, delegation, interpersonal relationships, workload organization, etc. include caselets and inbox prioritization (in-tray exercises).

These virtual tasks result in immediate, easy to decipher reports after the assessments, thereby allowing employees to analyze their performance promptly.

Blended ACDC

A better alternative to traditional assessment centers, blended ACDCs combine the best of technology and human touch by bringing together on-field programs and online assessments for an integrated approach to talent management. Blended ACDCs are best suited for mid to senior-level leadership profiles.

In addition to VADC’s online tools, Mercer | Mettl’s Blended ACDC toolkit consists of the following: 

  • Group Discussion
  • Case Study Presentation
  • One-To-One Roleplay
  • Competency-Based Interview

Blended ACDC reports provide scores based on both physical and online assessments. Assessor ratings from blended ACDC, as well as automated ratings from virtual ACDC, are combined for a holistic view of the candidate. An in-person feedback session typically follows.

Assessment Battery

A comprehensive battery of assessments can easily help organizations zero in on their high-potential employees by evaluating employees on their skill, personality, and behavior. Assessments can be administered independently or as part of ACDCs.

360-Degree Feedback

A holistic process where an employee’s superiors, peers, direct reports, and sometimes even clients come together to evaluate his/her performance. An accepted use-case of 360-degree feedback is to gauge an employee’s performance by analyzing multisource feedback, then applying it to decide on promotions and appraisals. 

However, it is increasingly being seen as a reliable tool with broader implementations. It helps employees develop a better perspective of their standing, skills level, performance, and behavior within the organization. It enables employees to chart their future course in tandem with organizational growth. The feedback creates an opportunity for employees to work on their personal growth and development by analyzing the feedback received from multiple stakeholders. A 360-degree feedback report often promotes self-awareness with its detailed observations. 

More recently, it has emerged as a great tool to identify high-potential employees in the organization. According to our survey, more than 30% of organizations have used a structured 360 degree feedback tool for their high-potential identification process. It is because organizations already using 360-degree reviews for promotions find its adoption easier for measuring potential in addition to performance when combined with a versatile tool like ACDC. An increasing number of subject matter experts believe high-potential identification should be measured using more than one tool, considering it accounts for leadership competencies, behavioral factors, personality attributes, and cognitive skills, etc., along with an underlying component of performance.

A clear definition of “high-potential” by your organization is a prerequisite to the success of any high-potential assessment tool. However, stakeholders can also be trained to pay attention to the additional criteria of potential. The questions and competencies can be customized to suit an organization’s definition of potential, and reports can provide a composite score pointing to specific skills and competencies indicating high-potential.


Performance vs. Potential 9-Box Model


The results of the HiPo program are mapped to a 9-box model. An employee development plan can follow after each employee has been assigned a section in this model. 

A high-potential identification program feeds into the future of the business. In the present landscape, where technology is ever-evolving, the correct HiPo strategy can steer your business in the right direction. A detailed process, along with an efficient tool or group of tools, is necessary to identify the high-potential employees of the organization. 

High-potential identification, thus, is an essential component of the transforming global work environment under constant change and churn. It contributes to the future readiness of your organization, which underlines the significance of finding a high-potential identification solution suite that fits your business strategy and helps you identify, develop, and retain future potentials.


Originally published April 9 2020, Updated August 23 2021

Written by

Bhuvi is a content marketer at Mercer | Mettl. She's helped various brands find their voice through insightful thought pieces and engaging content. When not scandalizing people with her stories, you’ll find her challenging gender norms, dancing to her own tune, and crusading through life, laughing.

About This Topic

High-potential identification, also known as 'Hipo,' are employee development initiatives undertaken to identify the most valuable employees and develop them. It helps organizations identify leadership potential, build critical teams and retain top talent.

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