5 Strategies to Improve High-Potential Development (Strategy Brief)

Employers are in drastic need of more inclusive and collaborative leaders who can drive business results and develop and retain top talent. It is critical to identify and develop high-potential employees because they exhibit the following important characteristics for at least 70% of employers, according to Brandon Hall Group’s research study, Developing Your High-Potential Talent. 

However, fewer organizations indicate that critical characteristics , such as inclusiveness, are demonstrated to a high or very high extent. 

While most organizations say their programs produce committed and engaged leaders, slightly more than half (55%) say high-potentials deliver stronger bottom-line results due to development programs; less than half (48%) said the high-potentials receive the level of development they want. 

In survey research, it is rare to get unanimous or near-unanimous agreement on any question. But when it comes to identifying and developing high-potentials, 97% of organizations believe change is needed. 

The improvement strategies research respondents cited most often include: 

  • Better career pathing 
  • Increasing the use of development opportunities such as team projects, job rotations and action learning 
  • Increasing communication and transparency about the high-potential development and succession processes 

While those all are worthy initiatives, they don’t address all the systemic weaknesses of high-potential development programs. For example, most organizations believe high-potential selection is biased and that the diversity of the talent pipeline is lacking. 

  • Which experiences are most valuable for understanding the potential of these employees to move into more responsible roles? 
  • How do we build a talent pipeline that represents the diversity of our workforce and customer base? 
  • What do high-potential employees value that will motivate them to remain committed to the organization? 

Which experiences are most valuable for understanding the potential of these employees to move into more responsible roles? 

How do we build a talent pipeline that represents the diversity of our workforce and customer base? 

What do high-potential employees value that will motivate them to remain committed to the organization? 

Here are five essential strategies to improve development of high-potential talent. 

  1. Commit to Increasing the Diversity of the Talent Pipeline 

Employers must fully commit to having a pipeline of diverse talent so they have future leaders who can be representative of an increasingly diverse workforce. That is not happening now, as less than half (47%) of organizations plan to increase the diversity of the leadership pipeline over the next one to two years, according to Brandon Hall group’s latest Leadership Development Benchmarking Study

Organizations must stop talking about diversity, equity and inclusion and act. The current and future workforces are the most diverse in history, not only in terms of demographic categories but also in their experience, education and opinions. It’s well-documented that diversity and inclusion drive innovation, which businesses must rely on to survive and thrive in an uncertain future. 

2. Be Inclusive in Getting Feedback on High-Potentials’ Progress 

Only about one-third of employers use multi-person feedback to analyze the readiness of high-potentials to move into new roles. Most rely on talent reviews and manager observation.

Understanding the readiness of people for new roles is not easy. People come across differently to others based on situations and their experiences and points of view. It’s important that decision-makers get a 360-degree view — or as close to it as they can – of how high-potentials present themselves to those they work with. 

When executive and leadership coaches work with a client, most will use a behavioral assessment to gain insights into the leader. But they also value conducting confidential interviews with people the leader works with. 

Because many organizations believe their high-potential identification and development processes are biased, they should go beyond talent reviews, manager observations and even assessments to talk to people who are impacted by high-potentials. 

3. Provide More Practical Experiences for High-Potentials 

Most organizations (73%) said they plan to improve targeted development opportunities to aid high-potentials. This includes team projects, job rotations and action learning. 

However, there are only so many of those opportunities to go around, especially in smaller organizations. And sometimes high-potentials need to practice new behaviors and strategies in safe places where there are no real-life consequences. 

That is why simulations — used by few organizations — are a great tool. Simulation technologies have made great strides and are far more affordable than they used to be. They enable organizations to scale practical experiences to see how high-potentials react and perform in new, unfamiliar or difficult situations. They can be used for individuals or cohorts so evaluators can see how high-potentials collaborate and innovate in teams. 

We also urge employers to give high-potentials more authority or responsibility in their current roles. This affirms their standing as someone being groomed for new opportunities and provides new experiences on an ongoing basis. 

Organizations can also offer rewards or incentives to high-potentials who assume new responsibilities or reach new goals. High-potentials want to see that they valued. The combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can be compelling. 

4. Embrace Coaching and Mentoring 

On average, 75% of organizations identify 15% or less of their employees as high-potentials, our research shows. That is a small enough population to enable many organizations to provide coaches or mentors to high-potentials. This can be done using internal coaches and mentors program — assuming they receive proper training — or through external coaches or mentors. 

In addition, organizations can help themselves by training high-potentials to become coaches and mentors as the grow and develop as leaders. About six in 10 organizations (58%) believe they should invest more in developing high-potentials as coaches and mentors 

5. Emphasize Wellness and Work/Life Balance 

Leadership can be difficult and stressful. Successful leaders must understand how to work hard, smart and stay healthy, both physically and emotionally. Therefore, part of the development process for high-potentials should include a focus on wellness and the importance of work/life balance. Only 26% of organizations plan to do this now. 

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