How to “Score” Leadership Potential When Using the Performance and Potential Matrix

Managers can usually assess performance, but they struggle assessing potential.

In this post, we’re look at why this is and I’ll offer a “formula” to help assess potential.

I’ve written posts on how to use the nine-box performance and potential matrix, and numerous posts on how to develop A, B, and C players.

I’ve also written quite a few posts on how to identity potential; in other words, what criteria do you look for? What’s that magical, predictive “right stuff”?

If you’re familiar with the nine-box method for assessing talent, you know that performance is defined as:

A= outstanding performance
B= good performance
C= poor performance

Managers usually are able to rate their employees fairly accurately and with confidence when it comes to assessing performance. The discussions are also pretty unemotional and non-controversial. They often bring copies of employee performance appraisals or business scorecards to talent review meetings, and come up with some kind of algorithm that translates to A, B, or C performance.
When it comes to assessing potential, that’s a whole different animal. Again, using the nine-box method, potential is often defined as:

1= high potential
2= medium potential
3= low potential

This is where the science of leadership assessment takes a left turn to the art of predicting potential. It’s easier to look back and assign a grade; but when assessing potential, you’re forced to look into the future and predict performance. If predicting the future were easy, we’d all be rich from the stock market and gambling on sports, and there would be no #1 draft pick busts in sports.

Given this murkiness around assessing potential, managers will often ask for a “formula”; some way to assign numbers to grading potential. To address this, here’s a scorecard, adapted from Harvard ManageMentor, for managers to assign numbers to their judgment.

Scorecard for Assessing Leadership Potential (answer yes or no to each question):

1. Could the employee perform at a higher level, in a different position or take on increased responsibilities within the next year (consider the person’s ability only, not whether there is a position available to support this growth)?

2. Could the employee perform at a higher level, in a different position, or take on increased responsibilities within the next three years (consider the person’s ability only, not whether there is a position available to support this growth)?
3. Can you envision this employee performing two levels above his or her current position in the next five to six years?
4. Is the organization likely to value growth of the skills and competencies of this employee over the next several years?
5. Could the employee learn the additional skills and competencies he or she needs to be able to perform at a higher or different level?
6. Does the employee demonstrate leadership ability—by showing initiative and vision, delivering on promised results, communicating effectively, and taking appropriate risks?
7. Does the employee demonstrate an ability to comfortably interact with people at a higher level or in different areas?
8. Does the employee demonstrate comfort with a broader company perspective than his or her job currently requires?
9. Does the employee demonstrate flexibility and motivation to move into a job that might be different than any that currently exist?
10. Does the employee welcome opportunities for learning and development?

To evaluate this employee’s potential, calculate the total number of “yes” responses and use the following scoring:

0-3 = Low; 4-7 = Medium; 8-10 = High

Keep in mind, there’s a danger to putting a number to a subjective assessment – it can create the illusion of certainty. While the numbers only provide a way to quantify judgment, having a common scoring system might help improve predictability and at least reduce some of the anxiety for managers.