Employment Enterprises Blog

5 Tips for Hiring and Managing "High Potentials"

Posted by Linda Brenner on Dec 9, 2016 6:32:00 AM

 high potential employees

There's a lot of buzz about "high potentials" coming from hiring managers, senior leaders and HR. Everyone wants to hire "high potential" employees. And everyone wants to keep their "high potential" employees - even if they're not quite sure who they are.

But, keep in mind: Not every employee needs to be "high potential" and not every job requires "high potential" employees. "High potential" indicates that a person has the 'runway' for growth, that they can likely move up, over, around the company successfully and - over time - lead larger and more complex parts of the organization.

Companies should define the specific areas in which "high potential" employees are most needed. To do so, they should answer questions like these:

  • What are the mission critical areas of our business (e.g., areas which drive sales, new product development, key service initiatives, etc.)?
  • Which areas lend themselves to upward mobility (i.e., Operations Supervisor leads to Operations Manager which can lead to Operations Director)?
  • From what areas of the business do we need to export talent (i.e., senior leaders tend to have a Finance background in our company, so targeting the Finance function as an area to develop "high potentials" makes sense.)

With these thoughts in mind, here are five tips for hiring and managing high potentials:

  1. It's tough to hire 'high potentials'. What looks good on paper (Harvard MBA, competitive experience, great grades, etc.) may not translate into success in your company in the same way it might at another company. In fact, "high potential" in one company (Ivy League school, financial services background, etc.) might look exactly the opposite in another company (ground engaged, non-academic, customer-focused.)
  2. Define what "high potential" looks like in your business - and in the targeted jobs. Which are most important - knowledge, skills or abilities? Or a combination of all three? Identifying the characteristics of "high potential" is essential to finding them. And what one person might think of as "great" may be completely different in the mind of someone else. (Which is a bummer if those two people are on the same interviewing team.) The key to hiring great talent is to know what you're looking for. And this means taking a data-based approach (think job analysis) to identifying what "great" means. It usually involves defining the skills, knowledge and behaviors critical to success in a particular job.
  3. Create a recruitment and selection process that will identify "high potentials". Where can you find the best candidates? How do you engage them in conversation? How do you extricate them from their current company, particularly if they're happy there? (Because, let's face it, lots of high potential types are probably demonstrating those skills at another company right now.) Who's involved in the candidate 'wooing' process? What assessments or selection approaches will help you determine that they have what it takes to be truly "high potential"? And, down the road, what sources reap the most successful candidates? How do we measure what a "great hire" really means to our organization?
  4. For existing employees, determine what "high potential" looks like. Again, what skills, knowledge and abilities do your existing top performing employees have? What results do they achieve? What behaviors and characteristics do they display? What data uncovers "high potentials" in your organization - performance, compensation, 360° feedback, financial results, team engagement, etc.? There are many great performers in every company. The trick is finding them and determining the specific areas in which they're great.
  5. Funnel your resources and efforts into selecting and retaining the right "high potentials". This might feel like a very non-HR statement - but not everyone deserves the same investment in training, development and retention efforts. Period. High performers contribute to a greater extent the sales, service, IP, branding efforts that add value to a company. And the challenge of retaining them should weigh more heavily on everyone. Companies should determine which positions are deemed "mission critical" and which of these positions have "high potential" incumbents. From there, the lion's share of development and engagement efforts should be focused.

The buzz about "high potentials" isn't going away anytime soon; if anything, it's moving further down the company as the pressure to identify and retain these resources becomes more critical to business outcomes. HR is on point to build a process for finding, selecting and retaining them, and these steps are simply a place to start.

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Linda Brenner started Designs on Talent with the vision of helping HR leaders drive faster and better results in talent acquisition and talent management. Visit Designs on Talent at www.designsontalent.com or contact Brenner by e-mail at Linda@designsontalent.com.

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