Identifying, Developing and Retaining Your High Potential Employees

Lorge Blog

Most businesses have a decent pool of impressive and exciting talent within their workforce. Unfortunately, many of those companies have struggled to identify, develop and retain their highest potential employees.

Fostering that high-potential talent requires a lot of time and energy. Yet, that employee is likely to be twice a valuable and beneficial to the organisation as their lower potential co-workers. High potential can manifest in many ways, including boosting the effectiveness and performance of any team they are added to by up to 15%.

Companies will often mistake high performance for high potential. High-potential talent will be high performers in their own right but, should also show that they have huge potential for growth and to lead those around them.

These individuals are usually identified through the observations and instincts of experienced managers and executives. However, this cannot be solely reliable for the fostering of talent and will require an additional analytical approach to this process.

The importance of high potential

Before identifying your employees with the highest potential, it is important that businesses have established what that high potential is for. An employee could have their potential exaggerated by their ability to climb the career ladder quickly or perform specific tasks excellently.

This could indicate some potential but will not be enough to guarantee their worth. A simplified measure could be that an employee has the potential, ability and drive to attain successive leadership roles in your organisation. A better description would include that individual’s ability to build, manage and lead teams around them and if they are continuously outperforming their counterparts in similar positions of leadership.

Each business will have varying details of the skills and ambitions they expect to see from high-potential workers. Ultimately, every business should expect that potential to develop into effective senior management that drives performance and the desire to move up in the company with the goal of improving the whole organisation.

What constitutes high potential?

Modelling high potential is not as difficult as it once was. There are several consistent and enduring characteristics that high-potential workers will display in most organisations of any size and in any sector.

There are three dimensions to these the talent of these individuals:

  • Leadership foundations: this refers to the ability to successfully manage their careers, be a good organisational citizen, and be a rewarding colleague to work with.
  • Leadership emergence: this considers the degree to which an individual stands out from their peers, influences the performance of those around them, build strong and strategic business relationships, and are considered a leader by their colleagues.
  • Leadership effectiveness: this refers to an individual’s ability to build, maintain and improve their teams around them and driving their successful teams toward larger organisational successes.

This multidimensional approach to analysing and detecting high potential helps create a more comprehensive and reliable set of expectations to hold your employees to than solely traditional methods.

Identifying high-potential employees

Identifying true high potential, as opposed to high performance and successful careerism, requires careful management, analysis and processes that are designed to make as few misidentifications as possible.

First, you have to set clear criteria for promotions or advancements that are explicit in your expectations of behaviour, achievement and KPIs for a high-potential employee. Managers must use standard and objective performance assessments that honestly portray individual outputs.

Do not focus explicitly on past or current performance, as character and personality are better indicators of potential for future performance, especially when the goals for high potential involve management and leadership. Finally, do not give up on those who do not meet your criteria; potential, of any level, can still be trained, nurtured and utilised.

Developing and retaining a high-potential talent   

As mentioned above, character traits like leading, strategizing, teambuilding and inspiring are more important than any one performance indicator.

The personality traits that we want from our highest potential talent are strong social skills with teammates, clients and upper management, the ability to strategize, adapt and implement good ideas and the drive to do all of this while advancing their position and remaining goal-oriented.

Most organisations do a good job investing in the identification of their high potentials. Unfortunately, there are far fewer resources invested in the development and retention of those talented individuals. The fact that these employees have been identified as have high potential, inherently, means that they still have a lot of growth and learning to do before that potential is realised.

These individuals require development, attention and guidance before they are ready to step into the senior or executive shoes they are destined for. To varying degrees, every single employee identified as having high potential will require some sort of development and nurturing.

Informing employees of their high potential

It is hard to say whether informing employees of their high potential – and your interest in it – can improve their trajectory. However, it is much easier to imagine those valuable talents being frustrated by not getting fair recognition of their performance, or even quitting as a result of seemingly limited prospects.

The idea is that truly high potential employees will be aware that they are outperforming their peers and their influence on their team and organisation at large. By not informing them of your notice and appreciation, they may be inclined to find that recognition elsewhere. However, it is important to not overblow this acknowledgement, as it could cause plateauing of performances or the development of an unhealthy ego.

Untapped potential

In any area of business, being able to identify and hone talent from with the organisation will be an incredible driver of success. By implementing the right strategies, tools and processes for identifying and developing high potential, you have the opportunity to build effective teams and future leaders.

For more information on the best tools and strategies for developing your inhouse talent, speak to our brilliant consultants at Lorge for all your business solutions.