Identifying and Evolving High Potential Employees

by | Articles, Blog, Emotional Intelligence, Executive Coaching, Leadership Development, Team Coaching

How to Identify and Evolve High Potential Employees

The Pareto principle suggests that 80% of consequences come from 20% of the causes. This is true for the best and brightest on your team. Good leaders know this and put in an outsized effort to recognize and deliberately focus on their High Potential Employees (HP) talent. It’s easy to just keep working great people for a great return on investment in the moment. But, if you do not identify them, let them know you are focusing on them, stimulating them, and encouraging their expanded experiences, you could lose them. It’s likely they already know who they are, but if/when they feel there is no development or path, they may wonder.

Identifying High Potential

Who are they? Typically, High Potential Employees have demonstrated strong skills and capabilities, as well as the ability to learn and adapt quickly to new and ambiguous challenges. Additionally, they are good with people and good in many situations. Identifying and evolving High Potential Employees can have a significant impact on the organization, including increased innovation, productivity, and engagement. So, the first question is, how do we identify High Potential Employees?

Be Intentional

Identifying High Potential Employees requires an intentional approach that relies on multiple sources of information and evaluation of the employee. Common and intentional approaches include:

  • Your intuition:

    You already know who they are. The challenge might be that they may not know you appreciate them.

  • Performance Evaluations:

    These evaluations can provide insight into an employee’s ability to achieve goals, handle challenges, and meet organizational expectations. The reason their evaluations are good is because they raise their hand, engage well with others and are generally demonstrating very good leadership competencies already. Make sure leadership competencies and behaviors are part of your evaluation process.

  • Managerial Observations:

    Managers who work closely with employees can usually identify High Potential Employees through their day-to-day interactions. Managers observe employees’ work habits, communication skills, problem-solving abilities, and leadership potential. Be careful of supervisors who may be misusing these great employees. They might be hiding them from others to just produce work. They may not be as visible on purpose, so press their supervisors for plans to grow these folks and make them visible.

  • Feedback From Colleagues:

    Soliciting feedback from colleagues, peers, and others can provide insight into an employee’s strengths, areas for improvement, and potential areas of future success. If you know they have talent, it will be obvious to everyone else. Create space to have deliberate conversations and plans to grow those who stand out.

Evolve High Potential

Once you’ve identified High Potential Employees, the next step is to help them evolve and develop. High Potential does not guarantee high success or success at all. As an organization, you need to provide a framework for their development and furthering their potential. Here are a few things you can do to evolve High Potential Employees and support their development into the future leaders of the organization:

  • Tell them who they are:

    Often leaders don’t want to make promises, but if people don’t know their appreciated, valued, and that you are looking out for them they will start to feel unappreciated. Conversely, if people are aware that you care and there is a development path, they will stick with you even in the toughest of circumstances.

  • Leadership Development Programs:

    Create or find leadership development programs that are tailored to the needs of High Potential Employees and the critical challenges they need to evolve. These programs can include workshops, seminars, and other training programs that focus on the skills and capabilities required for these employees to take the next step in their growth.

  • Stretch Assignments:

    Provide High Potential Employees with challenging and diverse assignments that stretch (grow) their skills and capabilities. These assignments can help prepare them with new skills or gain experience in different areas of the organization. Then don’t allow them to fail. Even if they do, they will emerge as the one who took on the challenge. The truth is valuable people enjoy a challenge. They use these experiences to overcome their fears and build their confidence. As a coach, when working with High Potential Employees, I tell them to go to their boss and ask for the hardest assignment, the one that other employees are afraid to take on.

  • Opportunities for Visibility:

    Provide opportunities for High Potential Employees to gain visibility within the organization. This includes things like presenting at meetings or conferences, leading high-profile projects, cross-functional initiatives, or working with other senior leaders. These opportunities can help High Potential Employees build their reputations and establish themselves as future leaders of the organization.

  • Feedback and Support:

    Provide High Potential Employees with regular feedback. This can help them understand their strengths, weaknesses, and progress toward their goals. Open communication and active listening should be encouraged to ensure High Potential Employees feel heard and supported.

A primary leadership goal should be to allow the best on our team to be successful. This will make the difference between scrambling for talent and growth for the organization, company, and society. A lack of leadership is the number one challenge for most organizations. If you don’t take care of the potential future leaders you have, someone else will. In this employee-focused environment we find ourselves in, it is a competition for talent. Your High Potentials have choices. If you take care of them, they will take care of you and everyone else in the organization, and be positioned to take your job someday.

Wrap Up

Effective identification and development of High Potential Employees requires a strategic and intentional approach. An organization must establish clear criteria for identifying potential, ongoing feedback and assessment, and customized development plans tailored to each individual strength, need, and career goal. Identifying High Potential Employees is not just about filling the next vacancy. It is about establishing a strong pipeline of talent and helping secure the overall success of the organization. If you are looking for help maximizing your High Potential Employees, we are here to help.

About Sojourn

Sojourn Partners is a results-driven executive leadership coaching firm that empowers the professional workforce to think differently in order to realize the full return on investment in themselves and their companies. Professional leadership thinking and intervention, based on years of research and experience, place Sojourn Partners at the forefront in executive leadership coaching, organizational development, strategic planning and culture and climate change.


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