HR Leaders: Is Your High Potential Employee Cupboard Bare?

As an HR leader you are constantly on the lookout for talented, knowledgeable and dedicated employees. But do you feel that your “high potential” cupboard is bare? When you have a job opening and want to promote someone from within, do you see that your company’s talent pipeline is empty?

It makes your job easier when you already have in place a stable of high potential employees who are ready to lead at the next level. Begin to build your high potential talent pipeline by asking yourself the following questions:

How does my company define “high potential”?

Some companies typically define high potential employees as those in the top 5% of job performance. These are employees who consistently and competently achieve superior results, distinguish themselves with admirable behaviors, embrace the company’s cultures and values, and tend to learn and grow more quickly and effectively than their peers.

But focusing exclusively on performance can be a miss. Other elements key to hi-po success include a pattern of proactively seeking to problem-solve or lead through influence. Effectively creating trust on teams or work groups, and helping to establish group dynamics that underscore accountability and commitment. If your company focuses only on performance, which is who you promote; leaving out the high potentials who may be the exact talent you need as your company grows. 

What’s the definition at your organization? Has senior management discussed this to determine the characteristics that are most valuable?

For instance, high potential employees often take on new and challenging assignments. They seek out opportunities to develop new skills, leave their comfort zone, and make difficult decisions to show they have the drive to succeed and make the sacrifices necessary to get ahead. Fear is not a part of their vocabulary. They are ambitious, proactive, take calculated risks, and believe that good is never good enough. High potentials constantly pursue new avenues for higher results and strive towards an ever higher level of performance. Can you name 10 people in your company who fit that profile? Can you name 100?

For a clearer view of how your organization defines high potentials, get feedback from everyone at the senior and executive level regarding the list of traits and attributes they look for when deciding who to target for further development and future promotion. Leadership competencies, management milestones, goal setting and achievement all play a role in how companies talk about and measure potential. Gain agreement on this list of characteristics so everyone is aligned around the same standards.

What feedback does the company provide to employees?

Next, for an employee to truly be ready for the next level, they need to know what their strengths and weaknesses are so they can begin to work on improving them. In your culture, what formal and informal paths are available and encouraged to see and provide feedback to employees? How effective are these conversations?

Make assessments a part of your company’s plan to identify, develop and train high potential employees. While they should be working on improving their skills on their own, showing them that they are valuable to the company by investing in their development validates their efforts and provides additional motivation for their desire to develop their skills. Have a conversation with employees about what they can do to improve their opportunities for advancement and see who steps up to exceed expectations. These are your high potential employees.

How Does Your Company Communicate Expectations for High Potentials?

Without clear expectations and ongoing communication around feedback and development, many employees believe they are doing everything “right” in the workplace.  They consistently receive satisfactory job performance reviews and generally believe they are near the top of the list for promotion. But you may still not consider them as a high potential employee. How does your company communicate the expectations for becoming a High Potential employee?

Once you’ve agreed upon a list of character traits with senior leaders and implemented assessments to profile your employees, develop a clear plan of action or guidelines to communicate to employees what they can do to improve their chances for becoming a high potential. Explain how high potentials regularly seek feedback from their managers and peers, network with other departments within the company, learn about their industry and the direction it’s headed, and seek opportunities to lead others even outside of the company (i.e. volunteer positions). High potentials are determined to excel and succeed both professionally and personally. Their motivation to learn, grow, and achieve comes from within and usually burns brightly in every thought, action, and choice they make.

So are you ready to take the necessary actions to fill your high potential employee cupboard?