What Happens to High Potential Employees?

Talent management and succession planning are key areas that businesses and human resource leaders are currently challenged with to provide effective and impactful processes. In today’s business environment the role of succession planning is crucial as retaining top talent and grooming high potential employees is necessary to a business’s future growth.

There is a general agreement amongst a variety of professionals including legal, business, and financial consultants that the importance of succession planning within a company cannot be over-stated. The impending retirement of baby boomers, and the increasing talent shortages facing businesses of all types point to the need for developed and well executed plans for ensuring a growing talent pipeline within a company.

Employees that have been identified as having what is necessary to move forward within the ranks of a business unit or company are referred to as high potential or HiPos. Managing those employees who have made the high potential list is a landscape that is constantly changing. Several areas for ensuring that the top high potential candidates stay with the company include redefining what high potential is for each business unit and ensuring employees are clear about the need for alignment between the business goals and the employee’s personal goals.

Part of the issue in defining high potential employees is the distinction between a high potential and a high performing employee. A high potential employee is a high performer with three distinct attributes:
1. Aspiration – strong desire to be in senior roles;
2. Ability – has the wherewithal to be effective in more senior roles;
3. Engagement – is willing to commit to the company and remain in the challenging roles.

It is suggested only 1 in 7 high performers is a high potential employee. The other 6 who are identified as high potential are not and actually fail in the roles they have been promoted to.

It may well be that of high potential employees identified within a business, a significant number may be at risk for being derailed due to a lack of full experience at each level within the succession planning process. This includes an inability to delegate and work through others, along with a lack of influencing, and collaborative abilities. This suggests a strong need for the provision of necessary training for high potential employees to develop abilities in delegation and influencing for long term business success.

There is a need for a new landscape to be developed within operational and human resource leadership to address the issue of succession planning with identification and development of employees that have the attributes mentioned. Implications for managers point to a rigorous approach to identifying and communicating with high potential employees the future roles that they may be suited for and developing sound strategies to grow those employees into those future roles.

Additionally managers need to be vigilant in tracking high potential candidates to determine if they are able to maintain their performance while taking on stretch assignments. Those high potential employees who fail to do so – need to be cut from the process with clear communication as to why a promotion is not forthcoming. Some employees may choose to leave the company and some may choose to stay with a clearer understanding of where improvements are required. Typically this is the case for entry or mid-level management roles. Those employees that choose to leave may not the best match for future roles.

High potential employees who stay and have demonstrated the development of the skills and abilities necessary are a tremendous resource for the business and worthy of full engagement and the honours that go with it. An additional benefit of having engaged high potential employees stay on for future roles is the utilization of these employees to identify and assist in the development of other employees within the company.

At the senior and executive management level – the process may be substantively different in that a high potential executive employee that is not promoted and has the attributes and the experience to succeed elsewhere will likely to move on. This is particularly true in the case that a similar opportunity at the present employer is not available in the foreseeable future. Succession planning and the identification of high potential employees and managing the process to successful outcomes for the business and the employees require a deft touch.

It is incumbent for the operational and human resources practitioners to step in and ensure the following:
• the accurate identification of high potential employees;
• champion the further training, development, and engagement of these employees;
• ensure these employees apply for promotion and leadership positions within the company;
• employees are committed to stay and work in new and challenging roles.

Marie Helene Sakowski

Leave a Reply