In my last article I talked about how to identify high potential employees (HiPos) – that is, high-performing employees who have the attributes to be future leaders in your organisation.

Creating a steady pipeline of senior leadership candidates is fundamental to succession planning, however many companies fail to capitalise on their high potentials. They invest money and resources into employees who leave the organisation less than a year after being marked as a future star.

When done properly, investing in your HiPos and replicating their successes will be a game changer for your business, delivering positive ROI on your talent investment.

Here are three ways to turn your HiPo strategy into a growth strategy.

1: Create a unique roadmap for your high potentials – using data

No individual’s path to leadership looks the same, so why would you give them the same development roadmap? A bespoke HiPo roadmap takes into account organisational strategy and emerging industry needs. It considers what skills a business leader might need to have within the next 3-5 years and matches that back to the skills an employee already has, to identify gaps, shortcuts and development pathways.

To this end, Microsoft have developed their own, digital ‘skills library’ to help streamline their talent development programs. The library, which utilises machine leaning, works two ways – to help leaders identify which individuals in the business already possess valuable skills which match the company strategy, such as Artificial Intelligence  – and for employees to see which skills are highly sought after by Microsoft’s leaders, so they can develop their skills in those areas.

Viewing talent through an industry-specific lens helps separate those with general skills from HiPos with the specific skills crucial to organisational strategy.

To give an example closer to home, Atlassian need their HiPos who can push the envelope on software-enabled collaboration. A HiPo for a retailer like Big W on the other hand, needs to innovate stretegies to deliver low pricing.

At Lighthouse, we recommend that you implement a talent development system which talks directly to your industry, your organisation and your most sough-after skills.  The system must be informed by data and feedback in order to evolve with your business and the changing needs of your employees.

2:  Reward HiPos with meaningful opportunities and access to leadership

With high-potential employees worth up to 91% more than others in the workplace, you’re need them to stick around. Keeping ambitious and motivated staff members from jumping ship is a real challenge though, with research showing that HiPos are more likely than non- HiPos to be actively looking for a job with another organization (39% versus 30%, respectively).

One South African development finance company concerned about the loss of their high potential talent decided to investigate what factors encouraged top talent to stay with the organisation. They interviewed eleven identified high potentials to provide insight, with surprising results.

Overwhelmingly, HiPos rate leadership over paycheque as the defining factor on whether to stay with or leave an organisation. Inclusive, supportive styles of leadership were particularly favoured.

Development opportunities are a second way to help ensure you retain key talent. Development should include training, mentoring and stretch assignments. We recommend augmenting these traditional approaches with data benchmarking  -a data-led means of helping HIPOs take control of their own development.

My takeout from this research is that retaining HiPo talent requires a properly-functioning leadership culture and intentional integration of executive leaders as coaches and mentors into development pathways.

For example, Phillips Electronics CEO and Chairman Gerard Kleisterlee makes it a priority to have lunch with a high-potential manager whenever he travels to a regional office. This is a small thing that makes a big difference.

Every Lighthouse Talent Development roadmap incorporates some form of Manager or Mentor engagement every quarter.

3. Clone what it is that High Performers do differently

In many workplaces, top performers are left to their own devices with little observation.  Their managers trust that they know what they are doing and spend time elsewhere: it’s the low performers you need to focus on, right?

Author Dan Heath has a powerful video case study about why focusing on low performers is unlikely to move the needle and lift performance across the board.

Instead, he suggests focusing on the ‘Bright Spots’ – high performing populations in your business – and investigating how the stars do their jobs differently.  For example, if 10% of your team drives 35% of your sales you need to figure out what they do differently: is it their time management skills, their pre-meeting research or their sales processes which make the difference? Once you’ve identified your Bright Spot success factors, you can replicate these processes across the rest of the talent pool.

This approach isn’t just theoretical – Gartner Research implemented a Bright Spot strategy in 2009, resulting in a client retention rate increase from 69 to 81 percent in just 12 months, a $50 million improvement.

Gartner’s earnings, before and after 2009

Whichever strategies you employ to develop and reward your high-potential employees, understand that your approach needs to be fluid and responsive to the changing needs of this critical talent pool. A regular dialogue between HiPos and their managers along with an individualised, data-enabled development plan is a great place to start.

Getting your HiPo strategy right will retain your emerging leaders and unlock their potential – providing a shortcut higher levels of performance.

This article was written by Eric Miller, Lighthouse Senior Partner. Join Eric and the Lighthouse team for an informative and practical webinar overviewing the 3 Dimensions of Talent Development  on July 5 at 10AM. The Webinar will overview  an agile and objective approach to Talent Development, using real-time data, to help you develop a ‘game-changing’ talent development strategy.

Key  Webinar Topics

  • Successors for Key Leadership Roles – identifying 2ICs, conscious development and the scorecard for success
  • High Potential Talent throughout the Enterprise – targeted development and individual ability to benchmark for high performance
  • High Performing Talent – ‘Cloning’ your best performers in the roles that make the difference


Lighthouse Group