I love the Boston Globe's Uncommon Knowledge section on Sundays. That section profiles interesting new research from the social sciences. Recently, it highlighted a study by Professors Longley and Wong from the University of Massachusetts. They examined whether minor league performance predicted major league success for pitchers. They found that it was NOT a good predictor.
What does that have to do with business? Well, ask yourself this question: Does your firm assume that high performance in an entry-level job is a good predictor of future success as a manager? Does it identify "high-potentials" at a very early stage? If so, this study offers a note of caution. Perhaps, early success at an entry-level job may not be a good predictor of future performance in all professions or in all organizations. Moreover, there may be some people who struggle early in their careers, but who blossom late.
What's the advice, then, for companies who are trying to identify high potentials? They must think about the skills and capabilities required to succeed in future leadership positions and look for signs of potential in those areas, rather than simply looking at task performance in the entry level job. After all, good technical skills often make you stand out in an entry-level job, but those capabilities don't mean you have great leadership potential. In addition, companies need to watch for the late bloomers, who perhaps take awhile to find their footing. Some young people may take a bit of time to get acclimated or to mature enough to succeed in the workplace.