In an article in the June issue of Harvard Business Review, Claudio Fernández-Aráos, senior advisor at a leading global search firm, states unequivocally: “I now consider potential to be the most important predictor of success at all levels, from junior management to the C-suite and board.” He goes on to say that potential trumps “brains, brawn, experience and competencies” when trying to spot talent.

I couldn’t agree more. Leveraging potential is what will make or break corporations in the years ahead. Without finding it, developing it and embracing it, corporations are going to find their pipelines depleted of the talent they need to compete and prosper because, by all accounts, the years ahead will bring with them an unprecedented scarcity of talent. Two factors are particularly at play.

First, demographics—the percentage of people in the prime age group for rising senior executives is declining, while more and more of the population-rich baby boomer generation are retiring. Second, globalization will require corporations to stretch beyond their local markets and find talented people who can engineer the expansion both domestically and internationally. These factors are literally screaming out for corporations to find new ways to pinpoint the leaders of the not-too-distant future.

In this quest to find and retain talent, potential needs to be front and center. Admittedly, it is more elusive than a check list of competencies, but it is nonetheless becoming increasingly more important.

A Goldmine of Potential
In our work with Fortune 1000 companies, WOMEN Unlimited is finding that more and more leading organizations are accepting the reality that the talent they need is right under their noses. Women employees, from entry level to mid-career, are literally a goldmine of often untapped potential.

However, the challenge of pinpointing and nurturing talented women with the potential to take leadership roles can be daunting. Studies have found that there is still a great divide in corporate America. Men tend to be recognized and paid for potential, while women tend to be compensated for existing competencies. Additionally, a recent Catalyst study found that women are still playing catch-up in having the mentors, sponsors and networks they need to make sure their potential is spotted and developed.

Tapping the potential of Female Talent
Right here and right now, organizations can begin to take a more active role in pinpointing and developing female talent. These are just a few of the best-practices currently in play by top corporations who understand the importance of tapping a talent pool that comprises half or more of their workforce:

  • Look at your corporate culture honestly and assess if it is conducive to nurturing female talent at every level. If not, develop a game plan for change, including the attitudes of the women themselves.
  • Start early. Make sure talented early-career women know they can advance in your organization and give them the tools they need to do it
  • Find development programs that are in synch with your corporate goals to tap female talent and who can customize their approach accordingly. Our partners at WOMEN Unlimited have often said that working together we have achieved ground-breaking results in finding, developing and retaining women with C-suite potential
  • Ensure that HR professionals and hiring managers look beyond the normal resume-based qualifications to traits that define potential. In his article, Fernández-Aráos pinpoints them as: curiosity, insight, engagement and determination.

The writing is on the wall for the 21st Century: potential “trumps” performance in combatting a continually-diminishing talent pipeline.

Dr. Rosina L. Racioppi
President & CEO
WOMEN Unlimited, Inc.