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Talent Attraction and Identification

There are two key ways to build an agency's pool of talented employees: recruiting external talent from the labour market or identifying talent within the agency's existing workforce. Most organisations used a mix of both approaches to build a talent pool able to fill a range of critical roles.

1.1 Attracting external talent

Attracting talent means recruiting the best, brightest and most respected individuals to a career in the APS. External talent attraction aims to grow the breadth of the existing talent pool by bringing in individuals with business critical skills and experiences, fresh enthusiasm for the agency's work and the potential for career growth. Research6 suggests the benefits of recruiting talented employees include higher employee engagement, better retention rates and lower staffing costs through reduced absence or performance management.

The APS Recruitment Guidelines contain information on tailoring recruitment processes to find the best employees. Social media and global networks are dramatically changing the way that organisations attract the most talented employees. According to recent research7, effective talent attraction strategies that organisations should consider in the age of social media include:

  • Treating recruitment like marketing. How an organisation is perceived matters when competing for talent. Today, 48% of candidates are trying to work out if your organisation fits with their values and 31% are looking for information on 'culture'8. Attracting talent means building a strong employment brand that attracts candidates to the work of the APS.
  • Using social media to build a pool of candidates. Effective organisations are using social media to build a community of individuals interested in their products, their work or in the organisation itself. Members of these communities have the potential to turn into high-quality, committed employees.
  • Using referrals. Referrals are one of the fastest growing sources for attracting talent. Research9 shows that candidates coming from internal referrals are two to three times more likely to succeed.
  • Using data. Consider using data from sources such as LinkedIn, Facebook and other global networks to identify quality candidates.

1.2 Identifying internal talent

Identifying and developing internal talent means that an agency is not reliant on the labour market to fill every critical vacancy.

1.2.1 Why accurate identification is important

Effective talent management relies on the systematic and objective measurement of performance and potential. Talented individuals are those who are high performers with high potential. It has been estimated that only 15% of high performers are also high potential10.

Talent management can be unsuccessful when organisations make the mistake of focusing on the wrong people – usually those who are 'high performers' in a current role but not necessarily 'high potential' for more senior roles. This is because performance is generally easier to observe and assess than potential:

Table comparing performance and potential
Performance Potential
An assessment of what has already happened in a past role or what is happening in a current role:

– Actual achievements

– Actual behaviours
A prediction of what might happen in the future in a more complex, ambiguous, larger role:

- Likelihood of success in delivering outcomes

- Likelihood of appropriate behaviours

- Likelihood of surviving and thriving

When talent is inaccurately assessed, it can result in a poor investment of time and resources in the development and engagement of an individual.

1.2.2 Measuring Performance

High performance is the first component in identifying talent. In assessing performance, two dimensions are important:

  • what has been delivered and the outcomes achieved: high performers not only get things done, they get the most critical things done and achieve the desired result
  • how outcomes have been achieved: the behaviour of high performers aligns with the APS values and reflects good management and leadership practice.

Agency performance management systems should provide a good basis for understanding current and past performance. However, if there is not an equal emphasis on how outcomes have been achieved, there will need to be a supplementary consideration of this dimension of performance.

APS Values

  • Impartial - the APS is apoliticcal and provides the Government with advice that is frank, honest, timely and based on the best available evidence.
  • Commited to Service - The APS is professional, objective, innovative and efficient, and works collaboratively to acheive the best results for the Australian community and Government.
  • Accountable - The APS is open and accountable to the Australian community under the law and within the framework of Ministerial responsibility.
  • Respectful - The APS respects all people, including their rights and their heritage.
  • Ethical - The APS demonstrates leadership, is trustworthy, and acts with integrity, in all that it does.

1.2.3 What is potential?

The identification of potential involves making an assessment of an individual's likely ability to be effective in a more complex and ambiguous role in the future. This is a predictive assessment and tends to be more difficult than measuring current performance.

The APS model for high potential is based on an assessment of an individual against three qualities: ability, aspiration and engagement. These qualities were first identified by the Corporate Executive Board and are now used widely by organisations in their talent identification processes11.

Recent APS research across nineteen models for high potential identified observable indicators for each quality12 that are meaningful in the APS context. These form the APS framework for identifying potential, as set out in Figure 2 below. A more detailed explanation of the elements of the framework is provided in Table 1 below and in the APS Framework for High Potential.

Source: Ability, Aspiration, Engagement based on Corporate Leadership Council, High Potential Employee Management Survey, 2005.

1.2.4 How can potential be assessed?

Making an initial assessment

An initial assessment of an individual's potential can be made through observation against the qualities, indicators and behaviours in the APS framework, as set out in Table 1 below. A manager guide to this assessment is included in the Manager guide to identifying potential. This kind of assessment is best made by a manager who is working closely with an individual and is able to observe their behaviours directly and engage with them about their career aspirations. These observations should be validated through discussion with a more senior manager or others on the management team. Drawing on multiple points of view combined with descriptions of behaviour can help to ensure personal bias is minimised.

When done well, an initial assessment offers an efficient way to gain a better understanding of the potential of individuals. It can be applied to all individuals in a segment of the workforce to screen for high potential, prior to embarking on more formal assessment processes. This may also avoid putting the wrong individuals through formal talent assessments, setting expectations which may not be met.

Table detailing qualities, indicators and observations for high potential
Quality Indicators What you may observe/hear from current performance
xMay be important for some agencies for some functions (i.e. a person's ability to work in different locations for an agency with an international presence; professional qualifications in a specific field)
Abilitycapacity to grow, adapt and develop enough to handle the complex work challenges which come with more senior roles Cognitive Capacity
Relatively fixed in an individual
Smart; quick thinker

Makes connections

Adept at conceptualising
Emotional Intelligence
Some scope for development
Stable and resilient in face of pressure

Self-aware with ability to develop relationships
Adaptability & Learning orientation
Some scope for development
Able to translate learning to behavioural change


Open to feedback

Open to new experiences and challenges (sees change as an opportunity)
Propensity to lead
Some scope for development
Not afraid to take the lead

Comfortable with authority

Influential and inspiring team player
Engagementstrong commitment to the APS with application of discretionary effort to achieve objectives Alignment with APS culture & values Commitment to the work of the APS or agency

Behaviours align with APS values
Discretionary Effort Goes above and beyond expectations to achieve goals
Environmental Fit x [this cell is intentionally blank]
Aspirationmotivation and desire to rise to more senior positions Motivation Internally driven

Committed to achieving outcomes
Career Aspiration Eager to broaden experience and take on more complex roles

Undertaking formal assessment

Formal assessment can be valuable to confirm an initial assessment of high potential and understand areas for development.

There are two types of formal assessment:

  • Screening tools – these are generally online questionnaires that can be validated with wider stakeholder input. These tools provide a quick, objective and consistent assessment.
  • In-depth assessment tools – these are used when high selectivity is required and/or to inform development planning. These types of assessments include task simulations, behavioural interviews and personality assessments.

1.3 Bringing performance and potential together

1.3.1 The nine-box grid

Accurate assessment of an individual's performance and potential is the first step in a well-targeted talent management process. However, it is only when an individual's assessment is considered in relation to the assessments of other individuals across a segment of the workforce that important decisions can be made by the senior management team such as:

  • Identifying likely successors for more senior/complex leadership roles
  • Identifying individuals who are most likely to benefit from targeted development
  • Identifying gaps where strategic external recruitment may be required
  • Identifying individuals within a workforce who are critical to retain.

A useful tool for plotting individual assessments across a cohort is the nine-box grid, which was originally developed by McKinsey for General Electric.

Figure 3: APS Nine-Box Grid

Performance: An individual's success at delivering on role objectives in current and past roles. Performance is an assessment of what a person delivers and how they deliver (within the context of the APS values).

Potential: The likelihood that an individual can work successfully and effectively in an expanded role, particularly the ability to work in an increasingly complex and ambiguous environment.

1.3.2 Using the grid: talented employees

Plotting individual assessments on a nine box grid will paint a picture of a group as a whole, be it a cohort across the APS or within an agency, division or team.

It is sensible to focus talent management discussions on the individuals with the highest performance and potential (top talent), as well as those who show strong signs of reaching the top talent ranking (emerging potentials and high achievers). This will ensure that talent processes have a strong and single-minded focus on developing, retaining and deploying the individuals who have been identified as the most critical to future agency success. Further guidance on developing and engaging talented employees is provided later in this document. A discussion prompt for debriefing individuals identified as talent on their placement in the nine box grid and further clarifying their career goals is found in the Guide to career conversations.

1.3.3 Using the grid: other employees

Plotting individual assessments on the nine box grid will also highlight individuals who do not currently fall into the talent categories. These individuals would not normally be considered through talent management mechanisms. However, their placement on the grid provides useful information for managers to consider in their general workforce planning and performance management processes. The assessments can help fine-tune the management practices that will best support an individual to contribute their best.

For example, 'proven performers' are high performing individuals who are not rated as high potential. These are employees who may not aspire to more senior roles or have the ability to contribute at a more senior level, however their performance makes a significant contribution to the agency, they may have deep expertise and they are highly valued for their contribution at level. Agencies may wish to consider how they keep these important contributors engaged through:

  • Recognising and rewarding their contribution
  • Providing opportunities for professional development
  • Understanding aspirations for lateral movement.

At the other end of the scale, for individuals in the 'strongest concern' category there is a need for firm and decisive management action. This includes accurately understanding the nature of the employee's performance shortcomings and then taking steps to address them. In the first instance, the manager must engage the employee on the issues, providing honest and clear feedback. They then need to set goals and expectations around a return to effective performance, ensure appropriate training is provided, and monitor progress.

If performance does not improve, agency underperformance processes should be commenced. This may result in reassignment of the individual to another role, reclassification or termination.

A set of manager discussion prompts for each of the nine-box grid categories is provided in the Guide to career conversations.


6 Barry, L., Bohdal-Spiegelhoff, U., Erickson, R. & Lamoureux, K., "Talent acquisition revisited" in Schwartz, J., Bersin, J. & Pelster, B. (eds) (2014). Global Human Capital Trends 2014: Engaging the 21st Century Workforce. Deloitte University Press.


8 Bersin, J. (2015).Predictions for 2015: Redesigning the Organization for a Rapidly Changing World. Deloitte Development LLC.


10 Burke, Schmidt & Griffin (2014). Improving the Odds of Success for High-Potential Programs –Georgia, USA. Talent Report. CEB SHLL Talent Measurement

11 Corporate Leadership Council High-Potential Employee Management Survey, 2005

12 People Measures Pty Ltd. (2015). Defining & Predicting High Potential. Research paper 2015

Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018