ATD Blog

Leadership Potential Isn’t the Same as Readiness

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Companies invest a lot in high potential identification, expecting in return some assurance that qualified people are ready to step into any breach. Unfortunately, pinpointing high potentials is not the same as preparing them. The Readiness Linchpin , a new Korn Ferry white paper, looks at how organizations can close the gap between having leadership potential and actually being a ready-to-promote candidate. 

The paper explains that to have the right candidates at the right time, organizations need to examine four things: performance, potential, readiness, and fit. However, according to the authors—Stu Crandell, Joy Hazucha, and Cori Hill—job performance receives the bulk of assessment, with some additional attention placed on potential. Unfortunately, even though readiness is a crucial link between high potential and success in a new job, Korn Ferry finds that it rarely gets measured. 

The problem, according to The Readiness Linchpin is a failure to understand the distinction between potential and readiness. “Both look ahead into the future, but with very different time frames and levels of detail,” the authors state.  Korn Ferry makes clear that potential has a three- to five-year time frame, and can even span an individual’s career trajectory. Meanwhile, readiness is focused on the very near term—tomorrow, next week, next year.  

Here’s the good news: Readiness, like potential, can be measured. 

Typical talent assessments focus on four methods: observation, self-reporting, interviews, and simulation. As the white paper states, “Observation is the gold standard.” Think: annual performance reviews. But observation doesn’t work to assess readiness because, as the authors remind readers, “the person has not yet been in the role or tried the task. While the person could simply be promoted and then removed if he flounders, this is a risky proposition for both the individual and the organization. “ 


Therefore, the paper recommends organizations focus their readiness assessments on a combination of interviews and assessments, including high-stakes leadership simulations. “Simulations, in particular, are a reliable way to surface any shortcomings before putting someone into a mission-critical job,” write the authors. In fact, an analysis of Korn Ferry’s high-stakes simulation assessments taken by 1,717 people at 12 companies found a direct correlation with performance after a promotion. Those who were strongly recommended based on the simulation assessment were four times more likely to be rated a top performer than a bottom performer by their new boss. 

Korn Ferry describes how to make each method work: 

  • Self-reporting: Ask the person to self-rate on key attributes that would be important for success in the new role.
  • Interviews: Ask focused questions about the person’s performance in situations that approximate those he or she will face in the new role.
  • Simulation: Create a scenario that parallels the new role and observing the individual’s behavior. 

After using these methods to assess candidates, organizations should compare results to known challenges of that next job. This not only provides insight into whether the person is fully prepared for a specific job, it also identifies any gap in skills. The Readiness Linchpin also explains that the assessment should be able to “indicate how quickly an individual might be made ready using targeted development or some other accelerated preparation.” 


Readiness decisions, of course, vary in significance. “The more mission-critical the job role, the more certain the organization needs to be that the candidate will hit the ground running and thrive,” the authors state. No matter the level of significance, though, assessing readiness is the step that connects high-potential programs with viable succession planning. 

“Once organizations start proactively taking stock of which people are ready to move into their next role—or, why they aren’t ready—they are poised to build a continuous talent pipeline,” concludes The Readiness Linchpin. 

Download The Readiness Linchpin to learn more about why readiness is a crucial link between high potential and successful transitions.

About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently sources and authors content for TD Magazine and CTDO, as well as manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs. Contact her at [email protected] 

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