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Oct 16, 2014

Talent is getting unprecedented recognition as a key determinant of business success, and talent management has become so crucial to business growth that it’s forcing organizations to re-examine how they attract, develop, retain and engage employees.

Therefore, building leadership capacity is perhaps the most pressing strategic imperative in business today.

In a global survey of business executives conducted by Right Management and The Conference Board, over 80 percent of companies reported they intend to grow talent internally versus hiring leaders from the open market.

Given this strategy, and the need for talented leaders to navigate today’s dynamic business environment, it’s more important than ever for organizations to take a critical look at how their high potential (Hi-Po) development processes are structured, implemented and communicated in order to optimize their success.

Despite the best intentions, many organizations sabotage the success of their Hi-Po programs by not thinking through some of the basic processes associated with candidate selection and development. As a result, key talent in the organization may become discouraged and disengaged — and your investment of time and resources in their growth may not deliver the return you expect.

3 common missteps

  • Trying to be fair at the expense of being strategic. In selecting candidates for Hi-Po programs, some organizations mandate that available slots be distributed equitably across their business units. The most effective Hi-Po leadership pipelines are configured to meet enterprise objectives rather than satisfy all constituencies.

Optimally, Hi-Po selection criteria should flow from the organization’s business strategy and vision. Targeted growth areas usually have a far greater need for talented leaders and these key business segments deserve a larger share of the developmental resources.

  • Providing a career ladder without any rungs. Hi-Po development is often road-blocked by promotions made as a reward for past service rather than to expand the skills of top leadership candidates. This jeopardizes the credibility and trust that Hi-Pos have in the company, and unless they’re managed under a structured and consistent development process providing meaningful career opportunities, Hi-Pos may become disengaged and leave the company altogether.

Organizations with an understanding of the key experiences and roles required to prepare individuals for higher level leadership can use that information to monitor career paths and prevent blockages by individuals without advancement potential.

Additionally, leaders can evaluate the experiences gained in critical roles and look for alternatives like short-term assignments, serving on task forces, and other means to replicate those experiences without actually having to put the Hi-Po into the role.

  • Assuming everyone “gets it” (or wants to get it). It’s critical to delineate the goals and structure of your Hi-Po development program and make this information clearly understood throughout the organization. Without explicit communication, reassignment designed to broaden employees’ experience and exposure to different facets of the business may be misunderstood or seen as frivolous.

Leaders can position moves favorably by talking with each Hi-Po employee about the experiences and capabilities the leadership team saw as critical for his/her continued development and advancement.

In some cases an individual might not want to move to another role. Unless the development conversation takes place, those concerns can’t be aired and discussed, and neither the organization nor the individual will be well-served.

The post originally appeared in a somewhat different form on