Even before the phrase ‘the war for talent’ came into being in 1997, having the right talent in the right roles was a prime concern facing all executives and HR professionals. And now, identifying and supporting talented individuals is so important (and at the centre of successful enterprise management) it could be a practice area of its own.


To search for and find potential, you need to know how to measure it. Growth elements such as the following help individuals learn new career skills:

  • adaptability
  • learning orientation
  • openness to feedback
  • drive
  • energy
  • achievement orientation
  • career ambition
  • results orientation

However, they may be less important in different work environments. Their adaptability, learning orientation, and risk taking can be stifled by current work and its context – meaning a person not showing these traits might have them, but they are unused due to situational pressures and demands.

Moving this person to a new assignment may allow latent components to be unleashed, highlighting previously hidden potential. In this instance, new assignments are useful for learning new skills and knowledge, alongside demonstrating behaviours and skills previously hidden.


What then are the key components for discovering potential in an individual? In the ‘The Pearls and Perils of Identifying Potential,’ by Silzer and Church, they list the seven key components, reached after an exhaustive research into nine models used by assessment companies and consulting firms, and two corporate surveys.

Breaking down analysis of individuals in this way helps senior leaders, managers, and human resource professionals make better decisions in the identification of high potential people. Better identification of existing high potential people in an organisation, combined with improved search and selection processes, drives businesses on towards success. Following on from seven key components, Silzer and Church divide them into three wider areas that support a talent management strategy focused on potential:

Growth Dimensions:

components that help or hinder an individual’s growth and development, (include adaptability, flexibility, and motivation). These traits are stable over time, but with access to learning and a supportive environment, alongside an engaging topic for the individual, they can strengthen. They are also useful as indicators regarding the acquisition of new skills.

Foundational Dimensions:

competencies people have throughout their careers, including cognitive ability, personality characteristics and interpersonal abilities. They are fairly stable and hard to alter, and only develop with considerable intervention and support from others.

Career Dimensions:

early indicators of potential in a specific career area. Specific to different careers but often include supervisory skills, potential for management, and potential for success in project management.


Silzer and Church describe the four types of high potential components relevant to understanding the model, supporting their supposition that the stable components (cognitive skills, personality traits), career skills, and knowledge can improve during the course of a career. Increased focus by organisations on learning variables with new skills outcomes can assist with evolving career skills.

Evolving components:

that an individual acquires through career experiences (mostly Career components).

Intervening components:

that influence the degree an individual can grow and develop in other areas (mostly Growth components).

Latent Components:

that need the right context and support from the management or HR to express themselves (mostly Growth components).

Stable, consistent components:

that can be measured similarly at different career stages (mostly Foundational components).

Now that you know how to measure potential, find out what to do with this data when it comes to high potential talent. Download the full report. 



Stephan Surber

Senior Partner
T: T +41 44 224 2235
E: [email protected]