High potential

Mentoring high potential employees [Guide]

High potential employee development programs are usually designed with two goals in mind: (1) prepare them for future leadership positions and (2) avoid their turnover. The best and brightest minds are always looking for opportunities to learn and grow. What better way to fulfill that need with mentoring programs? This is your guide on starting a high potential mentorship program.

Ryan Carruthers

Published on 

November 24, 2021

Updated on 

Time to Read

mins read time

We've all been there. You lavish your time and resources on a new employee only to find they ditch you within the year. Even worse, you could have prevented their taking off if you'd just had the right plans in place. This is what's happened to organizations and leaders who have invested in training high potential (HiPo) employees. Despite spending an average of $4000 and almost 40 hours (per employee) building HiPos, sadly, more than 7 out of 10 do not generate any ROI, according to Cebglobal.com.

You may think you did everything right, but when you lose those folks to another company, it's time to revisit better methods than you have in place. You want the very best on your team, not the opposite. This is why today, we will be going over how to develop high potential employees, retain them and contribute to their wellbeing (Gallup found that it improves their engagement) through high potential employee mentoring programs.

Why do high potential employees need mentorship? 

Put yourself in their shoes. What is more reassuring than having someone guide you through various stages of your career based on experience level? The right guiding hand builds self-esteem, which leads directly to successful performance. Here are why HiPos need mentorship:

  • Career pathing: Mentorship can help high potential employees forge career paths by providing guidance and expertise. HiPos are often seen as people who can or should figure things out because of their potential, which is not always true. They also need guidance and direction.
  • Challenges and accountability: For HiPos to truly achieve their latent potential, they need mentors to unleash it. Through mentorship, high potential employees work with mentors who analyze their strengths and weaknesses, then give them challenges to help them become a better version of themselves. Successful organizations don't assume HiPos are perfect people who will just get on with their work. 
  • Performance feedback: 96% of employees want frequent feedback. Additionally, 65% of employees say they aren’t receiving enough feedback and want more. Feedback is a three-way street—it benefits the giver, the receiver, and the organization. For HiPos to be successful, they need candid feedback that helps them reflect on their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Networking opportunities: Mentoring circles are a good way HiPos can learn, grow professionally, and make connections across all levels within their company or industry.

Why should companies run high potential programs for employees?

High potential development programs are usually designed with two goals in mind:

  • Prepare them for future leadership roles and 
  • Avoid their turnover

Turnover can cost companies a lot of money. Businesses in the U.S. lose about $1 trillion every year, according to Gallup. Not only is it costly, but it also affects organizations in many other ways. 

HR leaders should engage high potential employees in the organization to increase retention. One of the best ways to make them more productive is by offering mentoring opportunities. Gartner's research shows that employees who receive support from leaders work 21% harder than their colleagues.

Organizations that run HiPo programs are more likely to engage their employees than organizations without one. According to Gallup’s research, employee engagement is one of the two most important factors that contribute to their performance. Employee engagement improves the retention rate by 59%.

In a survey, 63% of the 600 U.S. businesses claimed employee retention is more challenging than hiring new ones. But your company can't make headway with wet-behind-the-ears new hires every few months. So, companies need to find ways to retain their HiPos. high potential programs bring the best out of your high potential employees and motivate other employees to be like them. 

high potential development programs create a culture of high performance in the organization. When an organization has the right behaviours and norms, it will succeed in financial and non-financial respects. Non-financial results include: 

  • Customer satisfaction
  • Employee retention rates
  • Competitiveness in the marketplace
  • Innovation for new products or services

Frameworks for high potential mentorship programs

How do you structure a HiPos mentoring program effectively? Leaders should consider the following frameworks when setting up a mentorship program:

  • 1-on-1 mentorship: Involves pairing a HiPo mentee with a mentor. The pair usually connect for at least an hour each month. During these sessions, they can discuss career goals, challenges, and topics that will engage the high potential employee. Doing so will help them realize that the growth opportunities are within their current company, not outside.
  • Peer mentorship: In this form of mentorship, leaders establish a mentorship program between a HiPo employee and a veteran employee at the same level in an organization. The veteran employees have unique levels of knowledge and experience to share with the high potential. A peer mentoring relationship is more than just a work friendship. It’s focused on mutual growth. It’s likely that it will lead to a friendship, but at the start, it’s an intentional relationship where you two support each other through encouragement, discussing your goals, and holding each other accountable to grow.
  • Mentoring circles: When mentees of HiPos strive to get valuable job-related skills from mentors from all levels of the organization. The mentorship is said to be a mentoring circle. Knowledge sharing and community building are the foundations of successful mentoring circles. Similarly, group mentorship is key for building future leaders. High potential employees can receive guidance collectively from one or more mentors. Think of it as a class, but hyper-focused on their career development.

How to build a mentorship program for high potential employees

Do you want to build an effective mentorship program? Surely, you want your organization's leadership to be in safe hands? Consider the following: 

Choose a goal for the program and communicate it with participants

Before establishing any mentorship program for HiPos, map out what you want the program to achieve. Well, before putting it into action, Leaders and HR managers need to be clear about what results they expect. Everyone should agree on goals.

When deciding on the goals for your mentoring program check out our article on the topic, goals and objectives of mentoring programs.

Likewise, determine the employee's goals: there has to be a goal before any mentorship program takes off. There is a roadmap on where you want the mentee, mentor, and organization to be at the end of the program. This way, you are also able to measure the KPIs achieved.

Pair up employees 

For mentoring to work, you have to have a good match. Without this, the whole idea of mentoring would be worthless. High potential employees should be paired with someone who understands the company culture and is willing to train junior staff members. 

Ensure that your HiPos are paired with those that have knowledge and experience that can benefit them. Mentors who they can go to when they make mistakes and give them valuable insights, feedback, and help them learn at their own pace. 

HiPos and mentors, who are both in managerial positions, should share some similarities. This can be either in communication style, career background, or hobbies. They certainly don't need to have everything in common. A study shows that dissimilarities could be an added advantage.

At times what a mentee needs might be different from what a mentor has to offer. Mentorship must have aligned expectations on the purpose of the mentoring relationship for it to be effective. Here is a good resource on how to make the relationship flourish between mentors and mentees.

There are many important considerations to weigh when deciding who to match with whom. For that reason, Together’s pairing algorithm quickly weighs all the goals, experiences, and preferences of mentees to serve them up with a list of the most relevant mentors for them. It’s an efficient way for mentorship program managers to pair up all employees.

Provide discussion topics and resources

After you have successfully paired mentors and mentees, the next step is to provide them with resources and topics to discuss. It can be awkward to start a mentoring relationship. These resources can help break the ice and keep the conversations focused. What is the most important thing you want to achieve from the program? Equip the participants with every means possible to achieve their goals.

For the discussion to be laser-focused and go smoothly, provide the participants with engaging topics. Topics can include anything they are passionate about or find interesting, but it's best to tie these interests to their goal. Suggest relevant articles, TED talks, discussion topics, and sample questions.

Informing yourself of your team's strong points will make it easier to leverage their abilities and focus on providing the best resources. At Together, we provide template agendas with our mentoring programs on our platform. The more materials you have at hand, the more likely your team is to stay organized, on task, and succeed.

Encourage mentors to create development plans with employees.

Together's mentoring programs encourage a mentoring agreement where both the mentor and mentee agree on logistics (when they'll meet, how they'll prepare for each session) and expectations (who will ask questions, what they expect to learn).

Gallup shows most high potential development programs focus on presentations on strategy instead of practical experience. It'd be better to practically test their talents. The experience should be carefully selected and be in an area that the person has limited or no exposure to. 

Check in with participants and get feedback.

How do you know if there is progress? You need to know whether the goals and objectives of the program are coming to fruition. You also need to know if the resources that you are sharing with them are helpful. Perhaps they need another type of resource. This is why program managers need to connect with their participants throughout the program. 

Giving candid feedback about what is expected and where weaknesses lie will only help employees grow. Employees who have high potential need feedback. They will want to know their strengths and weaknesses so that they can evolve and become their best. Consider these facts: 

There is no perfect system. Sometimes high potential employees and their mentors have issues. You can try to solve them when this happens. If the relationship isn't working, give them a chance to work with someone else. Sometimes it's just a matter of changing the way the mentor works with the employee.


This is where the rubber meets the road. Successful programs go even further than setting goals. They have concrete objectives and key performance indicators (KPIs). What are your objectives for the program? How do you plan to achieve them? high potential development program leaders must know how to track and report according to the objectives of the program: 

  • Signups
  • Session feedback
  • Business outcomes
  • Anecdotal feedback
  • Mentee and mentor goals

Using software to run your mentorship program

Hanging on to high potential employees is challenging. Competition with other companies is strong as most employees are constantly searching for career growth opportunities.

With competition high and employee turnover rates increasing, unless your organization has a proper retention strategy, you could lose your high potential employees. The loss of quality talent is likely to be felt at many levels of your organization for a long time.

Together awarded for best ease of use by Capterra
Together awarded for best ease of use by Capterra

Together's mentoring software makes it easy to launch best-in-class mentoring programs for new hires. Our mentoring platform empowers organizations to automate the pairing process without compromising on quality. Our platform has been awarded for it's ease-of-use.

Mentorship programs provide a great opportunity to develop your high potential employees further. Connecting them with a more experienced leader at your organization can help these high potential people cultivate skills that are central to your organization’s future. 
Learn more about mentoring your high performers.

About the Author

scrollbar code:
close button

Hear how they started with Together