How to spot high potential employees

ONE MINUTE BRIEFING: Adobe's Gavin Mee says the loudest person in the room isn't always the most talented, but there are telltale signs of future stars.

Last Updated: 15 Jan 2020

The most obvious battles in the war for talent take place at the lowest levels – graduate recruitment – and at the highest – executive headhunting. But the success of a business depends at least as much on its ability to nurture talent in the middle ground, spotting the potential in people and drawing it out of them.

Gavin Mee took the top spot at Adobe Northern EMEA last year, after senior positions at Oracle and Salesforce – all three high-growth tech companies that build their success on very high-productivity employees. Here, Mee shares a quick lesson about finding and developing people internally.


"Be observant, both in the everyday work environment and in meetings. Don’t look for the loudest person, look for those who actively listen well.

"I like people who put themselves forward for things and make tough decisions. For example, I recently asked for some employees to give me feedback. You notice the people who come through the door of my office and say I’ve noticed this about the organisation, about how you could stretch us, or even about you.

"It’s important to stretch people out of their comfort zone once you’ve found them, whether that’s in front of clients or internally. We do these development projects called swimlanes about our next generation of growth. You get a whole bunch of ideas coming through, but you also get to see who’s standing up in these groups and actually driving change. Technique and skill are important, but they’ve also got to have an appetite for it."

Key takeaways

--Don’t mistake confidence for competence. Not all future leaders are extroverts, and arrogance is never a strong predictor of success.

--Look for people with ambition and courage. These are essential leadership characteristics.

--Stretch them. Giving people responsibility is the only way either of you will learn what their potential really is.

For more information

Talent is contextual and hard to measure, argues psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, particularly if we’re measuring it ourselves. In fact, it’s best to think of it as something you develop, not something you find, says Alastair Dryburgh. Or to hear how some of our top businesses approach attraction, development and retention, take a look at this roundtable discussion.

Image credit: Pixabay/Pexels

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