The world was exciting. In my role as a Talent Director at a multinational company, I was making a difference. We had just completed a major acquisition, and now we needed to define who could drive the business to bigger growth . So, I was constantly on the hunt to identify who could take more responsibility. We developed methods to spot High Potentials and predict their career trajectory. I tracked the success of the assignments and almost only mingled with those “chosen ones” who were constantly thinking bigger – faster – broader career steps.

When I look back at this period, I am still proud of what we achieved then (doubling the business), and at the same time, I am convinced that what was working then, in quite stable times, will not work anymore now or in the future. I already saw some of the “dark” sides of our rating system then.

"Collaboration is a big success factor – so we need to create conditions that promote teamwork."

Reflecting on this experience and understanding new challenges, I have decided to ban the rating “potential” in the people review process, instead we focus on “behaviour in line with our values” next to performance. We decided to not give any names to the ratings anymore, as we know that evaluations change and that we need movement and stability in our organisation. Instead, we try to observe where individuals get more energy from: solving problems or growing people. And predict how fast they should take a new challenge.

• Fit with values as factor for recruitment, why not for further development?

Remember our old statement “Hire for attitude, train for skills” – we need to follow this also as criteria for promotion. People are very attentive on how serious we are about our statements – especially in current times where purpose driven companies are winning the best people. We already knew in the past that if we act against this, this will be at least confusing for everyone, or more likely be highly destructive. The behaviours that are connected to specific company values will also be differentiating factors for success, so they are highly relevant for our evaluation of individuals.

• Team players are needed, not single heros

Today, our problems are too complex to be solved by one person. Access to information is not restricted, but complex problems need to be evaluated from different angles and have not given answers. Collaboration is a big success factor – so we need to create conditions that promote teamwork. I realized that in praising the high potential individuals we almost invite them to focus on themselves all the time -  anxious to always shine, stand out and contribute, we don’t invite them to flex their roles - stay sometimes in the background, invest in other colleagues, train or mentor them. And trust others to find great solutions.

• Watch out for highly competent experts: they get more important in the future

As companies nowadays need to play their role as actors of big change in society and for the planet, the role of scientists, engineers and experts will be even more vital. To focus the reward system and prestigious training measures only on the ones that will move quickly, will send the wrong message. In the digital industry some outstanding developers will already earn more than their manager as they are more important for the overall results.

• To be marked “exceptionally talented” can slow down the learning curve

The rating “high potential” can actually lead to taking less risk as you don’t want to prove everybody wrong about your outstanding talents. I saw some of those colleagues avoiding risky assignments, they were targeting jobs with almost a guarantee for success. That meant a less steep learning curve than the ones that were pushing for their development themselves and accepted missions outside of their comfort zone, in a different culture or a new function. They were demonstrating that it is ambition, not potential, that is making the difference.

• Its constantly changing: going fast and slow, and focus in life

The speed of development of individuals is very different – I saw individuals with a fast track career having problems to catch up on their leadership posture later. And I am still impressed with a manager who was long term expert in a niche. He was facing constraints to move into broader roles, ultimately had one manager who took a risk – and ultimately landed at the C level of a blue chip company. We should also allow phases in life where the job is not the top priority. To create the fear to lose the “high potential” status forever in such a phase makes no sense.

In a world facing high complexity of challenges - let’s celebrate team players, and still evaluate individuals to determine the right job at the right time, but not get stuck with labels that are creating wrong results. Thanks to Adam Grant for “Give and take”, Carol Dweck for “Mindset” and Angela Duckworth for “Grit” to inspire a new way of talent management!