To compete short- and long-term, organizations need to continually reinvent themselves to remain relevant and compete in a rapidly- changing marketplace. Along the way, a common challenge inevitably emerges: retaining the best and brightest talent (high-potentials) in the face of that constant reinvention. It’s a problem that continues to mystify even the most seasoned senior leadership teams and HR professionals.

But what, exactly, does the term ‘high-potential’ mean? Research shows there are four consistent elements pres- ent in high-potential talent. High-Po’s in our businesses:

  • Consistently and significantly outperform others;
  • Exhibit behaviours that reflect their companies’ culture and values in an exemplary manner;
  • Remain engaged and connected to the business strategy and mission; and
  • Show exceptional capacity to grow and succeed

Even once organizations define the term high-potential, they are struggling to retain this talented group of pro- fessionals and continue to lose them to the competition. Thankfully, there are a few key steps leaders can take to retain their top talent.

STEP 1: Identify your future business needs

Take a look out to the future – maybe it is looking out three (3) years, maybe it is five (5) years. Whatever time- frame it is, make sure you are intentional in identifying:

  • Your organization’s mission and vision;
  • Where your business is going – is the business growing, shrinking, offering new products, etc.
  • What core competencies and leadership behaviours are going to take your business into the future. It is not what you need now in your leaders; it is rather how you define these behaviours in your future organization.


STEP 2: Formally identify the best and brightest your organization has to offer

Once you have identified your future business needs, it is time to align those needs with the identification of the talent who will get you where you want to be. I often hear leaders say: “I just know this person is going to go places.” Trouble is in the absence of a formalized talent assessment strategy and approach, a gut feeling just doesn’t cut it when others in the market are using advanced HR methodologies and systems. In order to operate efficiently, achieve key strategic goals and grow, organizations must systematically identify high-potential talent and provide them with an experience like no oth- er; one where they will be engaged, motivated, empow- ered and developed.

In other words, they need to be nurtured and rewarded for helping drive the success of the businesses they work in.

Identifying high-potential talent using systematic processes and tools allows us to compare “apples to apples” on core competencies / behaviours, engagement, performance and potential. It allows us to see who can take the organization to the next level and compete against the top organizations.

Although virtually any forward-thinking organization and their HR professionals want to identify high-poten- tial talent (HiPos), many fail to successfully accomplish this critical initiative. I should mention that it’s not the size of the organization that should determine whether or not you identify HiPos, but rather the impact of not identifying them. The most dire consequence of not do- ing so is losing your best and brightest—those capable of bringing your business to the next level—to another employer. If you’re like majority of organizations nowa- days, you don’t want to take that chance.

The formal identification of your HiPo talent is really the beginning of an incredibly rewarding process; one that allows you to build bench strength for your business.


STEP 3: Identify talent gaps within your business

Once you have gone through talent assessment, the business will be well positioned to identify talent gaps using the results of the assessment. Identifying talent gaps ensures that issues are fully realized and allows a plan to be implemented to accelerate the development of high-potential talent. This ensures your talent are well developed to move into more senior roles, and are equipped to meet the challenges of a growing business.

Studies conducted by CLC indicate that only 29% of all high-performing employees have what it takes to excel at the next level of their organization. This means that identifying gaps in your talent infrastructure allows you to determine whether you have potential successors for current incumbents and, more importantly, identifying high-potential talent allows you to recognize, strategize and plan proactively vs. reactively to close gaps.


STEP 4: Provide a development planning framework for discussions with employees

Identifying HiPos opens the door for further discussion about the importance of development and the role they play within your business. HiPos tend to be hungry when it comes to career development, and if you ignore having those discussions and providing appropriate opportunities for them to learn and develop, you might as well open the door and let them leave, because they will. In the absence of proactive development planning discus- sions, high performers will often lose faith in the organization and pursue career opportunities elsewhere.


STEP 5: Accelerate development for HiPo talent

When organizations have made the decision to identify high-potential talent and assess for gaps in that talent, the next natural stage is to consider how we can get the talent where they need to be to ensure success in the future. Accelerated development of this talent ensures that they are ready for their future successor or next-stage roles. We often get the question on how to ensure a successful accelerated development program.

It is getting increasingly critical to challenge high-po- tential talent in a way that is meaningful and provides them opportunities to challenge the status quo. The use of action-based learning to create opportunities is where the future is with respect to accelerated develop- ment. A true action-based learning experience pro- vides high-potential talent the opportunity to work on a real-situation where the employee has “skin the in the game” and can take the appropriate risks to push the boundary of possibility.

The most successful action-learning based experiences seen to date have included ones where the leadership team acts as sponsors to the project whereby partici- pants draw on this resource throughout the program. In addition to leadership sponsorship, we have seen in- credibly successful accelerated development programs include visiting with organizations who push the enve- lope in the way they run their businesses to understand what makes them successful, how they drive innovation and how they lead their teams to success.

It’s no secret, this increasingly competitive talent mar- ketplace has led organizations to rethink their strate- gic HR practices and re-evaluate the kind of talent they want to develop and retain. Can leaders retain their best and brightest without a systematic way of identi- fying them? Can organizations afford to not develop their high-potential talent? The answer to both is, prob- ably not. If your organization is like so many others and struggles to identify and develop high-potential talent, you may be left behind as the marketplace and talent outside your walls continue to develop, innovate and create.

Remember, the war for talent is on and your talent will go elsewhere unless you make a concerted effort to develop and retain them.