Most businesses have a mix of employees with different levels of potential.
The key is for management to identify employees that have the core skills, right attitude and drive to take on more responsibilities. They should be willing and ready to step up for short-term positions or projects with little to no coercion require.
Use these short-term positions and projects as a "trial" that you can then create a pool of tried and tested future leaders from. Importantly this "trial" also helps de-risk your business from promoting unsuitable employees.
The process of promoting employees can be a double edged sword. Promote too soon and you risk asking an employee to perform tasks outside their current level of ability which can lead to demotivation and even resignation. However wait too long and talented employees will feel they are not being noticed and seek career advancement opportunities elsewhere.
So how can managers get the timing right?
I always tell employees, promotion opportunities is mostly up to them being proactive. If you have employees who are asking for more responsibility, this is a great sign they are feeling ready and motivated to step up. However, just because they ask, doesn't mean they are ready for more responsibility so managements need to carefully consider how much, the type of extra tasks and how quickly to give an employee during their "trial" and then watch to see how the employee performs.
Many technical skills can be taught to anyone with a good attitude and eagerness to learn. However, people skills are different. Whilst people skills can be nurtured over time, some employees naturally have strong people skills. They can communicate well with different types of people and help keep teams happy and motivated. Keep an eye out those these type of employees as they are likely to be leaders in the future.
Even the best run business has moments of crisis. Customer complaints, technical issues, supplier errors... a crisis can come in many forms. Some employees will freak out at these moments and need a calm leader to help set a direction. Others will naturally appear to take charge and lead the team to safer waters. Employees that are cool, calm and collective at these times are likely candidates for promotional opportunities.
High potential employees love feedback, be it good or bad. They want to grow, learn and improve, and understand how they can help the business in the process. If you notice employees who proactively ask for feedback or are more engaged when conducting performance reviews by asking questions and trying to deeply understand what they are being told, this is a great sign they have potential.
Good managers have a sixth sense when it comes to employees they can trust with difficult tasks or responsibility. Chances are, if you trust them and they continue to deserve this trust, you will sleep well at night knowing they are handling more responsibilities.
Now, I'm not saying by simply staying back all the time is a sign someone should be promoted as it could also mean they are inefficient. But working back from time to time without expecting extra rewards is a massive signal of their commitment and that they will do what ever it takes to help complete the task and ensure the company succeeds.
Employees that can manage themselves are likely to have the core abilities required to manage others. If you don't need to micromanage their daily performance and can simply trust them to use their initiative to get tasks done, this is a wonderful sign of potential.
An employee that is consistently trying to improve their skillset, apply new tools and learnings, or are genuinely interested in staying on top of new technology and relevant trends, are sure signs that they're proactive learners. It's these types of people that will help lead your team to victory and keep in touch with your customers and industry.
Completing a job or task is one thing, however being able to read situations, acknowledge sentiment or voice gut feelings are star attributes in leaders... IF they can then make educated decisions and act accordingly. Watch for employees that seek out definitive answers from these sixth senses. You don't want to promote an employee who's reactive and acts on a rumour or every suggestion thrown their way. Instead a valuable employee should explore the issue, search out truth, fact or value vs rumour, and then address the situation to find a suggested solution.
It's unfortunate but true... We can't be an expert at everything! Knowing when to ask for assistance, and not wasting too much time trying to work it out, is when a manager knows it's time to call for support or expert advice. Look for staff that ask you for support in suitable situations and in timely manner. Then observe; did they learn from the support provided or did they come up against a similar problem and need support... again?
Management should be constantly looking for talent in their workforce to identify those who are ready to step up so that whenever possible promotions can happen internally. This builds a better business from the inside out and results in long term employees that feel valued and appreciated.
The tips above will help you know what to look out for in your employees and get the timing right to ensure high performers are rewarded and can see they have the potential for a long term career path with you.