Developing High-Potential Employees: Five Misconceptions

Al Schnur
by Al Schnur

Al has personally conducted more than 5,000 high-level evaluations during his career, and is particularly proud that more than 250,000 candidates have participated in assessment programs he designed. At present, Al focuses on C-level succession planning and assessment in support of CEOs, Boards and other high-level stakeholders.

Why do high-potential employees matter? Because they’re the best resource you have for leadership development and succession planning.

Compared to average ones, high-potential employees typically work smarter, represent your organization better, and are more talented at what they do.

That means that identifying these individuals in your organization and helping them climb the career ladder can put you a step ahead of the competition.

Developing your high-potential employees can hit a snag, however, if you harbor any of these misconceptions about how the process works.

1. High performers always possess high potential

Performance and potential are not always interconnected—potential, of course, measures a person’s ability to grow and handle responsibilities on a greater scale and scope, and actually has very little to do with performance.

An employee can excel in his or her role, but high performance in a particular area does not automatically indicate leadership material. A good engineer, for example, might be totally lost when dealing with sales and marketing. To ensure success, put people in the places where they can be most effective.

2. All high-potential employees want to be leaders

Leadership isn’t for everyone. People move through leadership passages at different speeds. It doesn’t matter how much you develop an employee without leadership aspirations—they’ll be unlikely to ever want to move into a management position, and even less likely to succeed at it if that role is foisted upon them.

Instead, focus your time, training and resources on employees who already possess some innate leadership attributes.

3. Training is the most important element in leadership development

Nothing can substitute for real world experience.

Training sessions, classes, mentoring and coaching all play an important role in molding a high-potential employee into a leader—but these aren’t the only tools you should be pulling out of your toolbox.

On-the-job learning has a bigger long-term impact when it comes to leadership development, because only it offers the chance to gain real experiences and apply concepts learned in training.

4. The same development programs can be applied across the board

Potential is situational—and developing that potential should always align with your organization’s goals.

Development programs should be grounded in comprehensive assessments and evolve as your organization evolves. They’ll be most effective when they’re designed to be flexible and are tailored to fit your needs.

5. High-potential employees need big rewards

It’s true that you get what you pay for—if you want to attract top talent, you need to make it worth their while in terms of incentives and rewards. But it’s important to not go overboard.

Compensation is only one part of a reward strategy. It should not be excessive and should work in conjunction with internal motivational tools, such as achievement and recognition. Overdoing it can foster jealousy and actually demotivate employees who are not considered high-potential.

Summing up…

Being strategic about developing high-potential employees will create a reserve of talent that will help your organization grow in the areas where it needs to.

A development program grounded in sound principles is worth its weight in gold. It will guide your high-potential employees up the leadership ladder and will better position your organization to conquer future challenges. 

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