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  • Writer's pictureNauman Khan

8 Ways to Identify Key Talent (+Tools to Do It)

Updated: Jun 12, 2023

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If someone were to ask you whether you know the HIPOs in your organization, would you know what they were talking about?

If they asked how to identify those HIPOs, could you explain it to them?

If they asked you if you had the right tools and processes to identify those HIPOs, could you give them a good answer?

Let’s begin with the basics - what is a “HIPO”?

A “HIPO” is short for “High Potential” employee. They are exceptional individuals possessing the potential to drive success and take on leadership roles in an organization.

Identifying these key talents early on and nurturing their growth is vital for long-term success.

But how exactly do you identify them and nurture their growth? How can you distinguish them from the rest of the workforce and ensure they receive the opportunities they deserve?

In this article, we’ll examine eight ways to identify these high-potential employees (HIPOs) alongside valuable tools that can help.

Let’s begin!

How to identify key talent?

A promising approach to finding HIPOs involves examining past performance that indicates the ability to tackle increased responsibilities coupled with a fast learning curve and positive attitude toward their role in the company.

There's no consensus on where "HIPO" came from, but two theories provide possible origins for this popular term among talent management and succession planning professionals:

  • The military employed it during World War II as they looked for officers among soldiers.

  • Or when General Electric (GE) developed its nine-box evaluation matrix during employee assessments starting in the 1970s.

Despite its unclear origin story, HIPO is now a well-known acronym to identify top performers who have potential beyond their current role and can help propel your company forward.

​Identifying HIPOs is vital because they are considered key talent - employees critical to an organization’s success.

Identifying these HIPOs will vary from organization to organization and department as these traits often differ for each. In some parts of an organization, delivering results may be the driving factor; in others, the ability to innovate might be the priority.

The following are some key indicators for identifying your key talents.

Performance reviews

According to a study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), performance reviews are the most commonly used means for identifying high-potential employees (HPEs) or key talent in organizations (SHRM, 2015).

It is a strong indicator of an individual's future success. Assessing their track record, achievements, and contributions can provide valuable insights into their potential.

Look for consistent excellence, a drive for results, and the ability to surpass expectations.

Employee engagement

A Gallup study revealed engaged employees are more productive, have higher levels of customer satisfaction, and are more likely to remain with the organization.

These factors are essential for identifying key talent who can drive the organization’s success.

Skills assessments

This is another critical component in identifying key talent. McKinsey & Company conducted a study highlighting their significance in identifying employees equipped with the necessary skills and competencies for success.

360 Feedback from Peers and Managers

Gathering feedback from peers and managers can provide valuable insights into highly respected and influential employees. Harvard Business Review's study emphasized the value of peer feedback, as it proved to be more predictive of future success compared to feedback from managers.

Career aspirations

You should consider employees with clear career aspirations and a readiness to learn and grow as a potential key talent.

The Center for Creative Leadership conducted research supporting the notion that individuals with a clear career vision take ownership of their development, exhibit a greater commitment to the organization, and have a higher likelihood of being high-potential employees.

Cultural fit

Key talent should also align with the organization’s culture and values to ensure they are a good fit.

A study conducted by Deloitte found that culture fit is a key factor in identifying key talent. The study found that employees who fit well with their organization’s culture are more likely to be engaged, motivated, and committed to its success (Deloitte, 2017).

Identifying talent and potential in the organization

Key talent is usually an even smaller group of high-performing employees with unique skills or expertise that are hard to replace.

These employees are often in high demand by other companies, and losing them can significantly impact a company’s ability to achieve its goals.

A study by the SHRM found that replacing C-level positions can cost up to 213% of their yearly salary in lost productivity, recruitment, and training costs.

According to another study conducted by the Center for American Progress, replacing an employee earning $75,000 or more per year can result in a turnover rate of 10% to 30%.

Losing a valuable employee can have serious repercussions beyond financial implications. It can lead to declines in team morale levels along with weakened organizational cultures, which ultimately lower productivity levels significantly.

When a top talent leaves a firm, it usually results in coworkers feeling demotivated and disconnected, and it may take time for a new employee to catch up and collaborate effectively with the team.

Retaining key talent, on the other hand, has multiple benefits, including greater productivity rates alongside improved staff morale levels which help build stronger corporate cultures overall.

Therefore by prioritizing employee retention, companies set themselves up for lasting success.

This approach establishes a robust talent pipeline and equips the organization to tackle forthcoming challenges and seize opportunities.

Identifying key talent involves assessing individuals' skills, competencies, and potential contributions to the organization's success.

To assist in this process, here are some steps:

1. Clearly define your corporate strategy and key objectives

Communicate your organization's strategy and objectives to all employees, providing a framework for identifying key talent aligned with your goals.

2. Determine the required skills and competencies

Next, identify the needed skills and competencies necessary for each critical role that support your corporate strategy and objectives.

3. Conduct skills assessments

Another effective way is to conduct skills assessments which help in evaluating the abilities and expertise of your employees. Conducting this assessment will help you identify key talent aligned with your corporate strategy and objectives.

4. Review performance reviews

Review performance reviews to identify employees who have consistently performed at a high level and demonstrated behaviors aligned with your organization’s values and goals.

5. Evaluate employee engagement

Evaluate employee engagement levels to identify employees who are engaged in setting targets, reporting progress, and are willing to do more to achieve the organization's goals.

6. Consider feedback from peers and managers

As part of the steps of identifying HIPOs, gathering feedback from peers and managers can help yield helpful information to identify your highest-performing people, which can help talent managers make the most of the talent of these individuals.

7. Nurture employee career aspirations

Individuals who possess a clear vision for their career path and a commitment to continuous learning and growth should be recognized as current or potential key talent within the organization.

8. Use competency modeling, talent analytics, and performance management

To effectively link talent and key corporate objectives, three powerful mechanisms come into play: competency modeling, talent analytics, and performance management.

Competency modeling

Competency modeling plays a pivotal role in identifying the specific skills and competencies critical for success in key roles.

By aligning these competencies with the organization's objectives, companies ensure their talent pool possesses the necessary capabilities to drive strategic goals.

This systematic approach helps in the identification of high-potential employees who exemplify the desired competencies to make significant contributions to the organization's success.

Talent analytics

Talent analytics makes use of data analysis to easily identify individuals who possess the right capabilities and align with the organization's goals by examining factors such as employee performance, skills, engagement, and career aspirations.

This data-driven approach empowers businesses to make well-informed decisions regarding talent development, succession planning, and resource allocation, effectively supporting their strategic objectives.

Performance management plays a vital role in connecting talent identification with key corporate objectives. By establishing clear goals and objectives directly aligned with the organization's strategic priorities, employees can be guided toward achieving these targets.

Regular monitoring of employee performance against these goals helps identify high-performing individuals who consistently contribute to the organization’s success.

It also provides an opportunity for ongoing feedback, coaching, and development, ensuring that employees remain focused on driving the organization forward.

Personality traits of high potential employees

When considering what characteristics and behaviors may aid in identifying top talent, consider the following examples. Consider whether your employee possesses the qualities you require. Some key personality traits examples are:

  • Positive energy/attitude

  • An entrepreneurial spirit

  • Innovation or creativity

  • Integrity

  • Teamwork

  • A customer focus

  • Leadership

  • Potential for growth

  • Job expertise and skills

  • A commitment to your startup’s culture, vision and mission

  • Effective communication skills

  • Commitment to deliver

  • A strong work ethic

  • Decision-making skills

Linking talent and strategy

A successful company understands that a team is only as strong as its members. To create a high-performing team that operates seamlessly, aligning the company strategy with the available talent is crucial.

This alignment goes beyond matching individuals to suitable positions; it involves strategically placing people in roles that propel the company toward its mission and vision.

Linking talent and strategy requires a thoughtful approach considering broader organizational objectives.

Here are twelve strategies to facilitate this crucial alignment:

Have clarity on goals and KPIs

Achieving clarity on corporate strategy and key performance indicators (KPIs) is fundamental in effectively linking talent and strategy. While it may seem simple, the reality is that many organizations struggle with this crucial aspect.

By clearly defining the key focus areas and KPIs for the short- and medium-term, companies can make better and faster decisions regarding their talent.

Be intentional about alignment

Being intentional about alignment means recognizing the interconnectedness of business strategy and talent management.

It requires clear and transparent communication, ensuring employees understand the strategic objectives and their role in achieving them.

Organizations can foster a sense of ownership and commitment by involving employees in the goal-setting process and seeking their input.

Understand what talent you need

To effectively link talent and strategy, it is vital to have a clear understanding of the talent required to achieve the business goals.

Talent management has evolved beyond focusing on specific skills to emphasizing the importance of behavioral traits and cultural fit.

The key lies in recognizing what qualities and attributes are needed and understanding how to identify them.

Establish a clear cadence

Creating a clear cadence is crucial in maintaining a structured and engaging environment. Regular planning and communication establish a framework for leaders to connect with employees effectively.

By providing consistent updates, sharing strategic insights, and reinforcing the link between individual responsibilities and the broader business strategy, leaders foster a sense of purpose among employees.

This open and continuous communication enhances employee engagement and cultivates a shared understanding of how each person's efforts directly contribute to the organization's overall success.

Hire people who make smart decisions

When linking talent to strategy, it is crucial to assess technical skills and a candidate’s decision-making capabilities.

Behavioral interview questions, case studies, and simulations can provide valuable insights into a candidate’s ability to analyze complex situations, make sound judgments, and act in the organization's best interest.

Understand staff strengths and weaknesses

A crucial aspect of linking talent and strategy is for managers to understand their employees’ strengths and weaknesses deeply. By truly comprehending their team members’ capabilities, managers can thoughtfully assign them to projects and goals that align with their strengths.

This understanding also allows managers to identify areas where skills need to be developed in their employees or consider future hiring needs.

Have the right person for the right job

To get the right talent, start by clearly defining the business goals and determining the required competencies to help achieve the goals.

This clarity enables organizations to identify individuals who possess the necessary skills, knowledge, and abilities to perform effectively in those roles.

Help people connect the dots

A crucial aspect of linking talent and strategy is helping individuals within the organization connect the dots between their roles and the long-term plan, especially for those at junior levels who may initially struggle to see their place in the bigger picture.

A powerful sense of intrinsic motivation can be fostered by tying personal success to the company’s success and showing individuals how their unique skills and strengths contribute to the organization’s goals.

Identify required soft skills

When linking talent and strategy, identify and consider soft skills alongside hard skills. While hard skills may be necessary for specific tasks, soft skills are critical in achieving business goals.

Soft skills encompass a range of interpersonal and behavioral attributes such as communication, teamwork, problem-solving, adaptability, and leadership.

These skills foster effective collaboration, drive innovation, and promote a positive work culture which is necessary for achieving organizational goals.

Create internal coaching programs

In order to effectively link talent and strategy, organizations must create internal coaching programs that align with different roles and levels. While many companies focus on targeting the top 10 to 15% of employees through leadership programs, this approach proves inefficient in the long run.

Instead, implementing talent development programs that involve the entire organization yields greater effectiveness by fostering connections and building strong trust across all levels.

Leverage strategy on a page

To effectively link talent and strategy, organizations can leverage a strategy on a page (SOAP) approach to communicate their strategic direction and enable talent to understand how and where they contribute.

SOAP provides a concise and accessible overview of the organization’s bold goals, winning aspirations, and strategies for achieving them.

By using SOAP, organizations can highlight their top focus areas and key initiatives for the year. This clarity helps employees align their efforts with strategic priorities and understand where to direct their skills and talents.

It lets individuals see how their contributions directly impact the organization’s success.

In addition to outlining goals and initiatives, SOAP describes how talent makes a difference. It includes behavioral expectations that the organization values, emphasizing the importance of specific attitudes, traits, and skills in achieving strategic objectives.

This helps employees understand the desired behaviors and mindset required to contribute effectively.

To provide further clarity, SOAP includes a list of key metrics that align with the strategic goals. These metrics serve as measurable indicators of progress and success.

By sharing these metrics, organizations enable employees to track their performance and understand how their contributions add to their overall success.

Aim for cognitive diversity

When linking talent and strategy, it is essential to prioritize cognitive diversity within the organization. Simply surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals who agree with your ideas may limit your ability to test and refine those ideas thoroughly.

Instead, embracing diversity in experience, background, and hierarchical level can lead to the best business results.

Tools to identify high potential employees

Many organizations still rely on Excel spreadsheets for managing talent and performance, drawn to their ease of use and customization. However, using spreadsheets exclusively can pose challenges as organizations grow, including time-consuming maintenance, limited functionality, and data consistency.

Research indicates that dedicated software tools provide superior accuracy, streamlined processes, and advanced reporting capabilities.

While organizations may struggle to leverage non-Excel solutions for various reasons, such as unclear objectives and insufficient implementation, effectively leveraging software can lead to benefits such as improved employee performance and productivity, increased employee engagement and retention, and better alignment between employee goals and corporate objectives.

Effective talent management practices have also been positively associated with employee performance and job satisfaction, higher revenue per employee, and revenue growth.

How can Kippy help you identify high potential employees?

Kippy is a cloud-based software solution based on an opinionated methodology that has been refined over decades and is proven to improve the chances of a successful strategy execution implementation.

So how can Kippy help you address those concerns, realize those benefits and help avoid those pitfalls?

  • Kippy provides all the above features, including defining key corporate objectives and competencies, skills assessments and performance reviews, evaluation and feedback, talent analytics and performance management.

  • Kippy provides the same benefits as Excel (low-cost, easy to use, flexibility) with easy migration of your spreadsheets; simplifies data management and provides workflows, integrations, advanced reporting and analytics with solid alignment between talent and business objectives.

  • Kippy provides free training to identify objectives and KPIs, a partner network to aid with the initial implementation, governance by default to ensure data quality and five stars for support from our valued customers.

  • Kippy also de-risks the decision further by following a “start small, think big, scale fast” mantra. You can start for free within minutes with the top levels of your organization to build confidence in the solution approach and tooling. And then easily, quickly and iteratively cascade down and across your whole organization.

  • Kippy is used successfully by 100s of organizations all over the world.

The online resources at provide examples, videos and use cases of how exactly the Kippy product facilitates all that, but the key steps for a Kippy implementation are summarized below:

  • Enter your strategy and key top-level corporate objectives

  • Enter KPIs to track those objectives

  • Assign owners in your organization to those KPIs

  • Set and agree on targets for those KPIs

  • Track progress against those KPIs at regular intervals

  • Collaborate and feedback improvement.

  • Review and approve the progress.

  • Include projects and milestones as well as KPIs

  • Appraise owners based on the performance of KPIs, tasks, and milestones

  • Appraise subjective competencies and peer feedback

  • Cascade the strategy to the next level of your organization with aligned objectives

  • Enter more KPIs and owners to do the same as above, and cascade down further

  • Appraise all employees at all levels to view relative performance

  • Rate employees on weighted scores

  • Analyze talent by all dimensions, including performance and competencies

Following these steps, you can view the relative rated performance of your employee appraisals based on objective performance and subjective competencies.

All are collated within a structured framework with built-in governance to provide confidence in the integrity and quality of the data it is based upon.

Key outputs

Below are some screenshots to give you an idea of some of the outputs specifically related to talent management:

Top practices for effective talent management

The talent management process involves organizing employee or talent resource management.

It is how you select certain employees for specific positions, hire them, train, motivate, communicate with them, and, ultimately, work with them.

Here are some of the best practices for improving your talent management process:

Specify what skills you need

Determine the types of people you need to hire and the gaps they will fill. Consider whether you can develop internal employees (if possible) or whether you will need to look elsewhere for the necessary talent.

Build a diverse candidate pool

Posting a job on a job board isn’t enough. Contact various groups and networks interested in the open position to attract a diverse group of candidates.

Building partnerships with multicultural organizations, developing an employee referral program that encourages diversity, and removing discriminatory language from job descriptions are strategies for attracting diverse candidates.

Create an organized onboarding process

It’s critical that you’re ready for your new employees to start. Give your employees proper orientation and designate someone to oversee their onboarding experience.

Determine which tasks you will assign them and what type of documentation they will require, organize training sessions, and order these activities.

Encourage learning and development

Developing existing talent is less difficult than hiring new talent. Even if you hire outside talent, they’ll want to learn something new about their responsibilities.

Plan the most effective ways for your employees to learn and grow in their roles, and ask them which training methods best suit their learning style.

Creating a learning management system to house all the fantastic development material you’ve compiled might be beneficial!

Hold regular 1-on-1s and performance conversations

Maintain regular contact with your employees. Don’t wait until the end of the year to provide feedback on their work!

It’s critical to understand how your employees feel in their roles and capacity and whether they’d like to put more effort into a specific area or try something new.

The more you understand, the easier it will be to assist your team members in progressing and feeling satisfied at work.

Strategize to retain your best talent

There are numerous ways to keep employees engaged and motivated at work. For example, recognizing their excellent work regularly and encouraging innovation and creativity.

Everyone is different, but positive recognition, improving company culture, and providing benefits and promotions are just a few ways to keep employees happy and keep them from looking for work elsewhere.

Plan for succession

Make every effort to support and nurture your employees to guide them down the path of their choice. Provide your employees with opportunities for learning and development and continuous feedback so they can perform to the best of their abilities.

Finally, if an employee leaves the organization, conduct an exit interview to understand why they chose to work elsewhere. It’s a significant learning opportunity to avoid repeating the same mistake.

Takeaway: 8 powerful strategies and tools to identify key talent

Accurately identifying key organizational talent is crucial for effective management and development. Simply relying on current job performance is not enough to predict future success in higher positions.

By implementing a system that can assess and identify high-performing individuals, you can ensure that your organization nurtures and retains its most valuable assets.

To take your talent identification and management to the next level, we invite you to Sign up now for the Kippy solution.

Kippy provides a comprehensive platform that integrates with your existing internal tools, such as project management, HR, ERP, communication, task management, and document management.

With Kippy, you can enter your data and go live within a few days, empowering your organization to make informed talent decisions.

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to unlock the full potential of your workforce. Request a demo and discover how Kippy can simplify your performance management journey.

Should you have any questions or need assistance, our team is available through Live Chat or email at



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Kippy - performance management made simple


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