Research shows that high potential employees, or Hi Po, numbers among a company’s greatest resources. Nurturing leaders in-house eliminates the need to recruit externally to fill many key positions while lowering training costs and reducing turnover rates for recent recruits who don’t match the company’s culture or standards. That’s why it’s so vital to identify, nurture and retain workers with high employee potential.
What Is a High Potential Employee?
Definitions of potential vary, and some subjective assessments are certainly required when identifying a high potential employees. However, most sources agree on the basics. Employees with high potential are the rising leaders of your organisation regardless of whether they work in IT, production, sales or management. The Corporate Executive Board defines high potential employees as those who demonstrate three key characteristics: aspiration, ability, and engagement. Learning agility and experience are also critical factors for successfully identifying high employee potential.
Many HR managers use the 9 box grid to identify and classify employees. The X-axis of the grid charts performance while the Y-axis charts potential. The best candidates for development are those that score highly in both categories. The simplicity of this tool in facilitating talent assessments has been proven in thousands of companies, and it’s effective about 95 percent of the time. HR managers can use the nine-box grid to assess the strength of team members, trigger development decisions and identify the best candidates for promotion to leadership positions. The criteria are simple. Performance and potential are both rated as outstanding, average or below par. Adding more criteria and levels doesn’t seem to improve the process, but backing the assessments with multiple opinions and solid data points does.
Attributes of High Potential Employees
The attributes of high potential employees can help you manage talent more effectively. HR departments, senior leaders and managers are essential stakeholders in the processes of succession planning strategy, identifying high potential employee candidates, developing requisite skills, transitioning employees into positions of greater responsibility and managing workers in their new roles.
At EmployeeConnect we identify the key attributes of a high potential employees as:
Ability rests on learned skills and innate qualities. The ideal employee might have skills in other areas than those that are critical in a given business, but achieving basic skill levels demonstrates an employee’s commitment to particular types of work. A high potential employee isn’t a blank slate regardless of how high his or her potential may be. Demonstrable skills in at least one relevant area of the business is a prime attribute of a high potential employee. The more skills an employee has, the higher his or her potential will be.
Experience in various aspects of business, management or production identifies a high potential employee. These workers often have experience in leading other people at other companies, school projects and outside activities. Experience shows that these employees know the business or certain aspects of it. This experience often fosters greater respect from other workers, and team members will often consult these leaders when they have questions or difficulties.
3. Learning Agility
Learning agility describes how fast a person learns. Employees with learning agility can rapidly analyse and understand new situations, learn to speak a foreign language and identify the most important factors when confronted with new work tasks. Agility doesn’t necessarily mean academic skill – the skill lies in the learner’s ability to identify the most salient points and demonstrate passion for mastering the material. These employees tend to embrace change, new ideas and career development opportunities.
Aspiration measures those qualities that make an employee an ambitious self-starter. Employees with this attribute will ask for expanded responsibilities, seek opportunities for career development and persevere at tough tasks even when faced with incredible obstacles. These people often have their own career plans to achieve traditional success, security, expertise, freedom and balance in their lives.
Assessing whether an employee is engaged involves measuring his or her commitment to the company’s culture and industry. Engaged employees participate in volunteer projects, support the company’s products and services and identify creative ways to improve and streamline operations. Engaged employees often recommend or lead outside group activities, mentor team members who are having difficulties and look for ways to connect with people from other teams and departments.
How to Retain Your High Potential Employees
The best strategies for keeping a high potential employee centre on identifying them and communicating with them. Companies spend thousands of dollars and HR resources recruiting top talent, but too many organisations fail to nurture their employees with talent management and development. The following areas are critical for maximising employee potential and retaining top talent:
Recognising that employees have potential helps workers thrive, but you have to be careful not to foster a sense of entitlement. Maintaining open communications is the simplest and most effective method of recognising a high potential employee. Providing regular recognition can reward employees with positive reinforcement, greater self-esteem and higher job satisfaction.
Rewards and incentives can keep a high potential employee at a company long enough so that he or she can justify your confidence. You can reward hi po employees with both performance-based and behaviour-based rewards. Using both incentives becomes crucial if promotions are slow due to a sluggish economy, seniority demands or prolonged succession-planning periods. Compensation usually ranks near the top of the list of preferred rewards, but other incentives can be just as effective. Incentives that motivate employees include recognition, career development opportunities, verbal praise and special perks.
Challenge employee potential by offering tough assignments, special duties and expanded responsibilities. High-visibility assignments keep employees engaged while challenging them to perform at higher levels. Depending on your company and its culture, you might consider giving hi po workers stretch assignments that are pivotal to achieving important company goals. It’s important to push employee potential by challenging complacency and the status quo. On the flip side, don’t instil fear of failure by making missteps an accepted part of the learning process.
Promoting those with employee potential signals that you’re not just blowing smoke. Too many workers with ‘potential’ fall by the wayside because they’re left to continue their old jobs with no advancement in sight. You can measure progress quarterly and base promotions on performance assessments during that time. You can also assign Hi Po employees to lead special projects and serve as regular team leaders. Another critical issue is readying a Hi Po candidate for promotion by offering one-on-one coaching or mentoring and educational, certification and training opportunities. Assigning a high potential employee to a different department or overseas office can substitute as a promotion when you explain that you’re grooming the person for expanded responsibilities.
Regardless of your in-house career development strategy, it’s critical to create an ongoing succession planning process to identify and nurture high potential employees. This pipeline can provide candidates for promotion and succession planning while your development efforts generate better work performances year-round. Identifying Hi Po candidates is no guarantee of success because between 5 percent and 20 percent of high employee potential will still drop off the rolls. The high potential employee pipeline can provide a steady source of top talent whom you can promote, cross-train and draw upon for filling key leadership positions.
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