Every organization has them — smart, passionate, motivated employees who could become your future leaders. But, just as growing a beautiful garden doesn't happen on its own, making sure your high potential employees thrive requires the active participation of HR and company leaders. It's all about picking the right candidates, giving them the proper care and knowing when they're ready to move up.
Who Are Your High Potentials?
Past success plays a role in predicting future performance. Consequently, those who achieve outstanding results and regularly exceed expectations should be on your high potential candidate list.
Other elements also are important, such as interpersonal skills and how candidates reach their goals. Achieving results with and through others is important, which is why more companies are turning to assessment centers, simulations and on-the-job observation coupled with coaching to identify critical success factors for future growth and required skills development.
How Do You Nurture Them?
For each high potential, create a formal individual development plan (IDP) that establishes a defined career path and clearly outlines goals to bolster the employee's skills and contribute to your organization's bottom line. An IDP is helpful in that it holds your high potentials and management accountable for progress and results.
Also, give your high potentials every opportunity to expand their skills and knowledge. There are many development options to consider, including:
Training and education. Programs to bolster existing skills — or build new ones — are an effective first step in preparing high potentials for future leadership roles. This can range from providing short-term training to higher education. Action-learning projects, which allow employees to work with diverse team members on real issues and work, are highly effective.
Job rotation. Giving high potential employees a series of challenging assignments in different departments is essential. This will teach them the inner workings of your entire organization as well as show you how well they can adapt to different situations and grasp new information.
Mentoring. Linking your high potentials with company executives through formal or informal mentoring makes your employees visible to your leadership. It also sends a strong signal that these employees are trusted and viewed as making valued contributions to your company. Keep in mind that providing your high potentials with growth opportunities outside of your business can foster a broader mindset than if all their training and preparation were internal.
When Is the Time Right?
Determining readiness is part art, part science. The most important element is that it should be a mutual decision among HR, the executive team and the high potential employee. Signs that your star performers are in a good position to move up include exceeding expectations when you give them more challenging responsibilities, taking the initiative to create their own challenges, and a willingness and ability to adapt to and understand all aspects of your business operations.
If they're not hitting those marks, they might just need more time or training. However, if their lack of performance is consistent even with further support, it's time to reconsider whether they really have the high potential to move ahead quickly.
Do the Work, Gain the Reward
Taking a carefully planned approach to growing current talent into future leaders is an investment that will provide benefits for your business for years to come. Consider this work the executive equivalent of master gardening.