Which Employees Do We Need In The Future? Not Only The Masterminds

Dr. Ernesto Marinelli

Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, senior adviser at Egon Zehnder International, analyzed cases where seemingly outstanding hires for C-level positions ended up being let go. His conclusion: they were hired for their business expertise and intelligence but fired for lapses in emotional intelligence. (Goleman: Emotional Intelligence Competencies)

Some of the main questions companies (and HR departments especially) need to address are: Which employees do we need to retain? Whom can we promote? Who can lead us to excellence? These questions can only be answered based on high levels of uncertainty – which we must reduce as much as possible. But which assessment methods or criteria have the highest predictive validity regarding future job and leadership performance?

Where we come from…

Traditionally we look for cognitive skills and high intelligence when we want to assess our employees’ potential and current skill set. This holds true for the so-called early talents as well as for high-ranked leaders. IQ has proven to be a good predictor of job performance, as Daniel Goleman states: “There is no doubt that given a large population pool, IQ is the best way to sort people into which career they can handle.

Still, we all know stories of highly intelligent executives who were promoted into leadership positions and failed the job as opposed to cases of people with solid, but not outstanding intellectual abilities who proved to be fantastic leaders. At almost every company there are cases of promising leadership candidates and highly intelligent employees who later turn out to fall for classic derailers.

…and where the journey should lead

Goleman found out that once employees achieve roles at a certain hierarchy level, cognitive abilities lose their predictive power regarding future success and career progression. This is due to a so-called “floor effect”: Every employee in these roles possesses above-average intellectual abilities. So, of course, these do matter, but mainly as a “threshold” as entry-level requirements for management positions. As he pointed out, despite high intelligence, we still find a high variance of performance regarding leadership and job performance.

As cognitive abilities alone aren’t a guarantee for workplace success or an indicator of great leadership skills, we need to find additional or alternative criteria regarding effective hiring and promotion selection.

Emotional intelligence

The construct Emotional Intelligence (EI) incorporates competencies and qualities referring to this. Daniel Goleman incorporates almost three decades of research in his latest books and names four facets of EI to be highly relevant for the business world: Self-awareness, Self-management/-regulation, Empathy, and Social skill.

From my point of view, EI competencies will become even more important in the Future of Work, as implications of globalization, digitalization, the increasing use of teams, and the growing need to retain talent will have a big, ongoing, and dynamic impact on today’s business playbook.

Another argument supporting the importance of employee characteristics (other than strictly cognitive abilities) lies in the increasing implementation of artificial intelligence and machine learning in business processes and organizational structures. It can be assumed that a big part of the advantages of cognitive high performers will disappear soon as self-learning computer applications take over most tasks based on data analytics and prognosis.

What stays is the human touch: We will always need motivated employees and leaders willing to foster innovation, to connect and share different sources of information and – finally – to create passion. I deeply believe that in the future, qualities enabling these processes and outcomes will be decisive of whether a company fails or succeeds.

I am confident that companies will profit massively by ensuring that employees possess and pay tribute to abilities such as:

  • Being able to create a culture based on continuous learning and innovation
  • Inspiring and motivating others
  • Knowing how to complete tasks with the goal in mind, through collaboration, and in harmony with the corporate strategy
  • Creating role-based networks and learning from them
  • Identifying trends and purpose
  • Being an example to others and a thought-leader in their function

Resources and additional Info

  • What Makes a Leader: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters (Goleman, 2014)
  • Emotional Intelligence: Implications for Personal, Social, Academic, and Workplace Success (Brackett et al., 2011)
  • IQ or EQ: Which One Is More Important? (Cherry, 2017)

To learn more about common factors in top employees, see We Don’t Need Another Hero.


Dr. Ernesto Marinelli

About Dr. Ernesto Marinelli

Ernesto has over 15 of human resources experience. He is currently the Senior Vice President for Human Resources for SAP Europe, Middle East and Africa supporting his organization in the digital transformation. Passionate about transformation and the impact of leadership on people, Ernesto is a seasoned, goal-oriented global HR senior executive with broad experience in supporting the sales and services organization, as well as development groups. Accustomed to work in an international environment, Ernesto is strong in transformational work and possesses in-depth expertise in all relevant HR processes with a strong ability in creating long-term partnerships. He speaks Italian and German, is fluent in English and has good knowledge of French and Spanish. He joined SAP in 2005 as a recruiter and had several roles within the HRBP organization. Ernesto earned a Master Degree in General Linguistics and a PhD in German Linguistics at the University of Würzburg in Germany.