Korn Ferry Assessment of Leadership Potential (KFALP)
Updated 23 June 2021
It is not meant for matching a candidate to a specific job, but rather to show potential for future suitability for a leadership role.
It has an emphasis on drivers (what motivates you and enables you to engage with a role) and traits (what is natural for you to do or learn).
KFALP further assesses in what level of leadership role you have the potential to perform well; for instance, first-level management or senior executive.
However, KFALP is more suited to assessing the potential for first to mid-level leadership positions; it is less effective for senior management and executive roles, except as a development tool indicating aspects to work on.
KFALP assesses and places a focus on ‘what could be’ over ‘what is’.
Who Uses KFALP?
Increasingly, KFALP is the choice of employers who want to future-proof their businesses by ensuring that there is not only a current well of effective leaders, but a clear succession of leadership talent.
KFALP is used by employers to assess:
- Future leadership potential
- What level of leadership someone is suited to
- How an individual can be trained or nurtured to reach their full potential
- How closely that individual’s result aligns with the organization’s future vision
KFALP may be used at the point of recruitment but is most suited to an assessment of the existing workforce.
You may therefore face KFALP when applying for a position or as part of your ongoing assessment as an employee.
What Does KFALP Assess?
KFALP assesses candidates and employees in three specific ways:
It identifies which individuals score high in leadership potential.
It measures leadership capability irrespective of their current position.
It uses the Seven Signposts of Leadership Potential to build a complete picture of your potential by measuring the four dimensions of leadership talent
The four dimensions of leadership talent are:
- Competencies – Observable skills and behaviors
- Experiences – Roles, tasks and environments that you have worked in
- Traits – Inclinations, aptitudes and natural tendencies
- Drivers – The values and interests that motivate you
These form the assessment of an individual's leadership potential.
Your competencies and experiences denote what you do, whereas your traits and drivers relate to who you are.
The Seven Signposts of Leadership Potential
The Seven Signposts are as follows:
This is also one of the four dimensions mentioned above, as it is an important aspect of your leadership potential.
Drivers are the values or interests that motivate you to work hard at a role or in an industry; they fuel your enthusiasm.
More specifically, this signpost considers if leading people energizes and motivated you, or if you are driven by other things.
The Drivers signpost is separated into three sub-dimensions:
- Advancement drive – How ambitious you are to advance in your career, especially into a leadership role.
- Career planning – The only descriptive section of the assessment, this sub-dimension expresses your career goals and how specific or wide your career plan is.
- Role preferences – Whether you would rather work in a position that requires achievement and versatility or are you more drawn to expertise and professional mastery. In essence, role preference measures if you are more interested in specializing or a broader role.
The most successful leaders, and especially those who progress to senior leadership roles, are keen to lead and motivate others, ambitious to progress in their careers and have specific career aspirations.
As you progress in your career, you will build on your experience in specific roles, functions, tasks, skills and industries.
This signpost examines your experience to date, the challenges each experience presented and how you learned from them.
KFALP also assesses how many key developmental experiences you have faced, such as being involved in product development, critical negotiations or handling external relations.
Experience has three sub-dimensions:
- Core experience – Your leadership career to date, specifically in leadership roles that lasted for more than two years, and what you have learned from these roles.
- Perspective – The range of roles, functions, companies, cultures, countries and industries you have worked in as a leader, and how you can take the experience from one area and apply it to a different area.
- Key challenges – How many of the key developmental experiences you have amassed in your career to date.
The more experience you have, especially in the key developmental experiences that Korn Ferry has identified, the more likely you are to bring a complex perspective and strategic thinking to a leadership role.
The key developmental experiences they look at are:
- Being required to develop new ideas or fresh methods of doing something
- Working in an undefined or emerging field that requires quick-thinking and being comfortable with change
- Utilizing a high level of strategic thinking
- Collaborating over a period with other parts of the organization
- Standing up to take charge of implementing projects or new initiatives
- Having to make high-stakes decisions
- Being involved in personnel decisions, and likely having let someone go for the good of the team
- Implementing and performing discipline procedures when tasks and projects have not gone well
- Being known and available to people in the team; making sure sub-ordinate employees know you are aware of their actions
- Being involved in negotiations or persuading people to give support
For a leader to be effective and successful, they must have the ability to identify their personal strengths and weaknesses, recognize where self-development is required and know when to rely on the skills and knowledge of others.
They must be continually aware of their feelings, reactions and behaviors so that they not only manage others but also manage themselves.
Awareness has two sub-dimensions:
- Self-awareness – Understanding your strengths and weaknesses and identifying where self-development is needed.
- Situational self-awareness – Understanding events affect your performance.
Leaders who have a high level of self-awareness are more likely to have a positive effect on their team and company performance.
When you have high learning agility, you are enthusiastic to learn from your experiences, able to do so and can effectively apply what you have learned to a new situation.
You are adaptable, skilled at navigating change and able to produce fresh approaches to the challenges you face.
This signpost has four sub-dimensions:
- Mental agility – How well you can spot developing patterns and trends, and whether you have a genuine curiosity regarding leadership challenges.
- People agility – How well you can work with, motivate and influence others, using your ability to read them to understand how to fulfill their needs and get the best out of them.
- Change agility – How well you balance the values of taking well-thought-out risks against waiting to see how a situation develops further, and more generally your openness to change.
- Results agility – How results-driven you are, and if you stop once you have achieved the specific goal or are keen to push beyond that goal and excel.
Leaders with high learning agility tend to be promoted more often than those who score lower.
In the context of the KFALP, capacity means your levels of logic and reasoning. There is only one sub-dimension for this section:
- Problem-solving – How easily you can spot trends and patterns, especially from disjointed, varied and multiple data sources, and if you are good at spotting new areas for development.
This section is measured using Raven’s Progressive Matrices, which comprises a series of multiple-choice questions.
The challenge for an employer examining your leadership potential is to ascertain not only whether you have a high scoring capacity for problem-solving but whether you can switch from individual problem-solving, required when working as a first- to mid-level manager, to organizing a team to problem solve, required should you reach higher managerial levels.
This signpost examines how closely you align with the recognized traits of successful leaders. Furthermore, it assesses how the levels of these traits correspond to leadership roles at differing levels, such as a mid-level manager or senior executive.
An employee may be suited to mid-level management but struggle to perform well in a more senior leadership role.
This signpost has five sub-dimensions:
- Focus – Consider this like the zoom lens on a camera. It is your ability to balance between perfecting details or consider the bigger picture (zooming in or out), and related, whether you can let responsibilities go through delegating or if you are compelled to micromanage.
- Persistence – In the face of difficulties, distractions and obstacles, this is how well you maintain your personally-valued long-term goals.
- Tolerance of ambiguity – What ability you have to work in VUCA environments – VUCA stands for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. If you require a crystal-clear plan to perform effectively, you might have a lower ambiguity tolerance.
- Assertiveness – If there is no clear leadership and you are willing and comfortable to step up and take charge, you may have higher assertiveness.
- Optimism – How positive your outlook on life is and how easily you move on from disappointments and failure; you are likely optimistic if you consider the future full of bright things.
Balancing the correct mix of leadership traits enables good career progression.
Derailment risks are the factors that could prevent you from achieving your potential. In this context, they are three specific behavioral tendencies, forming this signpost’s sub-dimensions:
- Volatile – Someone is volatile if they behave unpredictably, erratically or in possibly harmful ways, with a short-temper and a tendency to overreact. Others may find it hard to trust them.
- Micromanaging – A micromanager cannot delegate to others or let go of responsibilities because they cannot easily trust others; they must stay in complete control of every detail of a task.
- Closed – As expected, closed is the opposite of open; a closed person dismisses others’ opinions and perspectives unless they hold the same ones, and they tend to reject new methods or fresh ideas.
An otherwise ideal candidate for a leadership role, who appears to have the potential to progress to senior positions, may still score highly on one or more of the above derailment risks, indicating that they are unlikely to be a successful leader.
From an employer’s perspective, this is an important element to assess to prevent unnecessary staff turnover, detrimental effects on the workforce and business and, ultimately, an expensive mistake.
How Is the KFALP Scored?
Other than the 'Career Planning' section, KFALP is scored against a ‘norm’.
This can be a worldwide, general norm, or a role-specific, customized norm.
For each sub-dimension of the Seven Signposts, your score is reported as a percentile of this norm on a scale between two extremes. The scales are color-coded red, yellow and green, with red the lowest 10%, yellow covering 11–50% and green is above 50%.
This is different for Derailment Risks, where the lower the score the better, and green is the bottom 84%, yellow is 85–90% and red is 91% or above.
Ideally, your score will land in the green zone for each scale.
Each signpost’s color is dictated by your scores in its sub-dimensions. You need to score green in the following to get that signpost green:
- Two+ sub-dimensions of Drivers
- Two+ sub-dimensions of Experience
- Both sub-dimensions of Awareness
- Three+ sub-dimensions of Learning Agility
- Four+ sub-dimensions of Leadership Traits
- Capacity’s only sub-dimensions
- All of Derailment Risks’ sub-dimension
'Career Planning' is not compared to a norm but scored on how specific and focused your career plan is.
This is scored on the same red-yellow-green scale as the others (except Derailment Risks).
Once you have completed the assessment, you and the employer will receive an Individual Report, outlining your result for each sub-dimension against the target norm and how you can develop as an employee.
The employer may also use a Talent Grid Report, which provides information on how the results of a specific segment of candidates or employees compare to each other.
What to Expect When Taking the KFALP?
The assessment is computer-based, not mobile/tablet or on paper. There is no time limit; it should take you around 40 minutes to complete the main section of it, although the problem-solving section can add another 40 minutes.
KFALP questions present you with a workplace scenario and ask you for a response in the form of a branched, multiple-part, or multiple-choice answer.
Generally, you will be expected to provide 240-280 answers.
Do Employers Use KFALP in Isolation?
The result of your KFALP assessment may initially be viewed in isolation, but to gain a bigger perspective on how you might progress in leadership roles within the business, an employer will also consider:
- Other supporting information, such as your career development
- The existing management structure and culture
- The vision for the company’s future
Tips for Success
Whether you are an employee asked to take the KFALP as part of your career development or face the assessment as part of a recruitment process, there are plenty of ways you can prepare in the run-up to the day:
Self-awareness has a hefty role to play in developing in any direction but particularly as a successful leader.
Before the test, ask yourself these questions and reflect on your responses:
- What are your strengths and your weaknesses? How could you overcome your weaknesses?
- What have you learned from your past experiences? How have you applied this knowledge?
- What are your emotional triggers? How could you counter those triggers?
- Are you open to new ideas and the opinions of others? If not, what would happen if you were?
Having these answers firm in your mind will prepare you for the questions you will be asked in the assessment.
Know Your Career Goals
'Career Planning' is one of the sub-dimensions in the Drivers section and the only part of the assessment that is descriptive and not scored against norms.
Successful leaders generally have specific, clear career goals and a drive to reach them. They know what they want to achieve as part of their ongoing career plan.
This drive and specificity are good indicators of leadership potential: something you should seek to achieve in your assessment.
If you do not already have a career plan with short, medium and long-term goals, take the time before the assessment to create one. This is a plan that you will ideally return to every year to keep it up-to-date and relevant.
Understand Types of Leadership
Leadership roles within an organization will span first-level management up to CEO. What denotes a successful leader at one level will generally be different from a more senior position.
For instance, a senior executive requires a wider perspective of the organization than a mid-level manager. A first-level manager may be involved in more individual problem-solving and have higher attention to detail than a CEO who motivates and enables their team to solve problems.
Consider the different skills required at varying levels of leadership before you take the assessment.
Familiarize Yourself With the KFALP Format
Remove a little of the stress of taking the assessment by familiarizing yourself with the format beforehand.
There are KFALP practice papers to be found online, for instance:
Some of the above are free, while others are paid for.
If you are interested in the academics and research behind the KFALP, you can read Korn Ferry’s technical manual about it here – it goes into great detail about every single aspect of the KFALP and why it is that way.
Ensure Good Cognitive Ability
Give yourself the best chance possible of a well-thought-out response to the KFALP by ensuring you are at your best physically and mentally:
- Get a good night’s sleep the night before.
- Make sure the meals you have on the day are healthy and not so large that they make you feel bloated or sleepy.
- Drink plenty of water so that you are hydrated and try to avoid caffeine drinks as much as possible.
Whether you take it when you apply for a job or as a current employee, the KFALP presents an opportunity for you to express your true value as part of the company and a potential future leader.