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High-Potential Employees: Seven Keys to Success

Sept. 12, 2012
Address these areas when forging a high-potential employee-development program.

Succession management is a funnel to leadership positions, and high-potential employees are an important part of the process, says Jay Jamrog, senior vice president of research for the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp). He outlined seven keys to identifying and preparing high-potential employees for higher-level leadership positions.

See Also: How to Develop High-Potential Employees

1. Significant involvement by senior management. This may take the form of a leadership development council headed by the CEO and including key executives from across the organization. Whatever form it takes, the keys here are upper-level management involvement and substantial contributions from these executives.

2. Consistency, transparency and a high-trust culture. Don't be secretive about how you identify high-potential employees and definitely be consistent. Failure to do so can create ill will among employees not identified as having high potential. Jamrog says only about 50% of companies meet this criterion. Indeed, survey results released in June by AMA Enterprise, a division of the American Management Association, showed only 18% of respondents identified themselves as "very" transparent with respect to high-potential selection criteria.

3. Talent reviews that have both breadth and depth. Don't restrict your efforts to identify high-potential employees to traditional staff positions. High-potential employees may well come from sales and marketing, human resources, or other non-traditional arenas. Also, Jamrog notes, don't focus just on positions you need to fill today, "but look at what your needs will be tomorrow." Such forward thinking should include examining skills requirements, demographics, recruitment, possibly diversity concerns and other areas.

4. Meaningful development experience. High-potential employees need to gain experience. Moving them around among multiple business units is one example of how to accomplish this goal. Provide challenging stretch assignments.

5. Motivation and Retention. Pay attention to and challenge your high-potential employees, or they can quickly become de-motivated. Formal development plans are important, or high-potential employees can simply become unhappy employees. Also, consider mentoring opportunities. Additionally, "if you aren't recruiting them every day, somebody else is," Jamrog says.

6. Accountability. Hold leadership accountable for developing high-potential employees. 

7. Measurement. It's important to measure the effectiveness of your high-potential development, although specific measures may differ. Jamrog suggests that the quality of hires improves if a high-potential program is done right. Watch turnover, he suggests. Are high-potential employees leaving?

The i4cp vice president adds a cautionary note: Don't focus on your high-potential employees to the exclusion of the remaining workforce. "Have a bigger view," he says. For example, don't ignore your high-performing employees who don't want to advance further -- and they may not want to for a variety of reasons -- or you may just drive away an excellent worker.

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