High Potentials

Everything you need to know about high-potential leadership programs

Every organization wants to attract employees who are most likely to become the company’s future leaders. Here's how to spot high-potential employees and keep them around for the long haul.

Matthew Reeves

CEO of Together

Published on 

September 21, 2022

Updated on 

February 12, 2024

Time to Read

mins read time

Of course, most businesses want to retain high-potential employees. HiPo employees are the ones who take initiative, bring necessary change, and increase revenue. So, losing these employees means slowing down your steady path to success.

Employees quit their jobs for a variety of reasons, but the most common among top performers seem to be:

  • Toxic work culture – a company may lack work-life balance, reward bad actors, or foster an overly competitive culture
  • Job insecurity – a company may be reorganizing, fail to be transparent about finances, or lack clarity for advancement opportunities
  • Lack of recognition – a company may pass over top performers for promotions, fail to reward employees who go above and beyond, or otherwise ignore employees’ contributions to company success
  • Insufficient pay – a company may fail to compensate employees at a fair market rate, not be transparent about pay, or skip annual cost of living increases

High-potential employees who face these challenges will leave your company — and take their talent, skills, and knowledge with them. 

To nurture these employees and keep them on your team, you have to make them feel valued and give them opportunities to grow in their careers. A high-potential leadership program can help you do just that.

What is a high-potential leadership program?

A high-potential leadership program helps your HR or people ops team find employees most likely to develop and grow within your company. These individuals have talent and skills in their field, as well as a desire to learn and the potential to become effective leaders. 

A high-potential leadership training program will help them get to the next level in their careers and help you build a pipeline of talent for years to come.

Your program may focus on one or both of these goals: 

  1. To create stronger leaders for your organization
  2. To retain your company’s best employees

Once you know which goal(s) you’re aiming for, decide how you can best find and support your organization’s high-potential individuals. They might find value in workplace mentoring. Or maybe you’ll build your entire L&D program around developing HiPo employees.  

Regardless, the end goal is to create a productive and high-performance work culture where high-potential employees are given a chance to shine. 

eBook Develop your high-potential employees with mentors

How high-potential programs impact leadership development

When you identify and develop strong leaders within your organization through a mentorship program, you’ll start to see some major benefits from your efforts, especially in three key areas: succession planning, retention, and engagement. 

Succession planning: Preparing future leaders

Nurturing future leaders will put them on the path to success and guide your succession planning. When you provide guidance, mentorship, leadership education, and training programs, your high-potential team members will become strong leaders who are equally invested in the organization. Mentors can help support their professional development, guide their career path, assist them in overcoming challenges, and encourage innovation and growth.

🏅Inspiring examples of leadership in the workplace

Retention: Keeping your top employees 

Your strongest employees are the ones who work hardest toward your organization’s objectives. They care about the process and the results, and you can see this in the work they produce. Give these employees yet another reason to stay by providing more avenues for development, like leadership training, virtual learning, and mentorships.

Engagement: Rewarding high performers

Helping your high-potential employees work towards goals that matter to them will also improve employee engagement. Consider employees’ personal milestones and recognize their achievements. This will make your high-potential employees feel more accomplished and supported in your workplace.

Crystal Black, Sr. L&D Specialist at AAA, and Lynita Taylor, Program Manager - Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion at Samsara, leveraged mentorship programs to make an outsized impact on employee engagement, retention, and professional development.

Benefits of developing employees with leadership potential

Running a high-potential leadership program doesn’t only boost your best-performing employees. Your business also benefits from promoting internally and letting your current employees grow in their ranks. 

  • Internal recruitment is cost-effective. Promoting internal employees is cheaper than hiring new external employees. You spend less money to advertise on job boards, to onboard and train a new employee, and more. 
  • Internally promoted employees perform better. A current high-potential employee already understands your business goals and value proposition. Plus, they are already invested in your business’ success. The more you support them, the more they’ll support the company. In the long run, this kind of internal mobility will save you time and money while also increasing employee engagement and loyalty. 

How to identify high-potential employees

Employee performance and employee potential are two vastly different things. Even though high-potential employees can also be top performers, a lower performer can have immense leadership potential under the right circumstances. When it comes to assessing someone as a high-potential employee, you need to think about their entire skillset, future goals, and all the ways they can contribute to the organization. 

Instead of thinking of potential in terms of individual performance, you want to find someone most likely to become a “key driver of organizational performance.”

This means considering their personality, willingness to learn, their motivations, and what level of support they need to succeed. 

When building your leadership training program, look for these characteristics:

They have a specific skill set or talent 

To identify who has future potential, you want to look at areas where team members have succeeded, whether that’s now or in the past. Consider projects or roles they seemed particularly excited about. 

For instance, if a sales rep isn’t hitting her sales goals but is the go-to person for training new employees, maybe she’s better suited to a people management role. In other words, the benchmark for success will be how well they performed in their ideal role, not just in their current role.

They get things done and use initiative 

Being reliable and getting work done is another important trait. These individuals don’t need to be prompted to tackle tasks outside of their job description. Plus, they want to be trusted to do the job well, so they rarely require regular check-ins or may update you themselves. 

For example, if you have a top performer who jumps in to help out struggling team members, you might want to consider them for a mentoring role so you can start developing their skills and leadership style.

They are eager for new opportunities 

They are happy to jump on new initiatives and projects. By volunteering to learn a new skill or taking on a new responsibility, they are excited by the prospect of leaving their comfort zone. 

Let’s say an entry-level developer on your team is constantly learning new skills and asking senior team members to share their coding expertise. Their goal is to improve and develop their skill set, so odds are good that they’ll be learning new things throughout their career.

They stay calm when under pressure 

You cannot assume all employees easily manage stressful or fast-paced work environments. But an employee with high leadership potential may have a knack for handling stress with composure and logic. 

Think about the first person to find a solution when challenges arise. When others are scrambling to solve the problem, who is quietly mulling over the options? Who is the first to tackle a last-minute project? These are the workers who thrive under pressure and love meeting deadlines — and they’ve got the potential to rise to any challenge you put in front of them.

They care about the success of their company 

High-potential employees will become (and stay) invested in a company that offers them opportunities. They will ask questions and want to hear about the company’s success. When give the chance to contribute, they will want to stay and build a long career. 

Consider the mid-level manager who’s always asking about how their team can contribute to company success. He’s not just concerned about his own success, but his team and the bottom line. He wants to understand the goals of the business and how he can help. 

5 strategies for a successful high-potential leadership program

When building out your high-potential leadership program, the first step is identifying your HiPo employees and determining what you want them to do for the organization. Once you recognize them and their strengths, you can consider how to best support them so they can achieve your (and their) goals. 

Here are five best practices to consider:

1. Assess their existing skills

An important strategy for developing employees with high leadership potential is to fully assess their existing skills. Look at the different skills they currently have and use. Then consider new skills they want to learn and that will aid in their future development. 

Put plans in motion to help them develop these skills. Assign them new tasks, introduce them to different projects, or set them up with a relevant course.

To keep this task manageable, consider matching them with a mentor who can spend some time learning their individual skills, goals, and talents. Their mentor can guide their career path and help them develop into an effective leader.

2. Enroll them in personalized learning programs

Investing in high-potential employees means investing in their future and the company's future. Keep in mind that internal recruitment comes at a lower cost than external recruitment. So, this investment means the stakes are higher, but the risk is lower. In other words, you’re fighting to keep an amazing employee, but you’ve got more time to help them build confidence and grow as a leader.

Set them up in learning and development programs and provide access to supporting resources. A mentor can help here, too, by keeping L&D focused on their personal goals and ambitions.

3. Offer job shadowing with your most effective leaders

As part of your HiPo leadership program, allow top talent to shadow your top managers and most effective leaders. 

When possible, have them attend conferences and operational business meetings. Have management make them part of planning discussions, invite them to lunch and social events — anywhere important information is discussed at the senior or executive level. 

This isn’t just beneficial from a learning perspective but also in terms of networking. Such networking is vital in terms of progression. And for high-potential employees, it is an opportunity to show who they are, how they are driven, and why they deserve to be seen as an integral part of the company. 

4. Pair high-potential employees with mentors

Yes, we’ve mentioned mentorship several times already, but developing high-potential employees means giving them more responsibility so you can see how they perform. One way to do this is to pair them with mentors who can witness their achievements firsthand. And with mentoring software, you can find the perfect pairings, monitor mentee progress, and share valuable resources.

Meanwhile, your previous crop of HiPos become mentors who can train your newest standout employees, challenge them, and provide actionable feedback. 

Implement our 360 Feedback Template to help your employees continuously improve

5. Recognize and reward HiPos

Top performers want positive feedback, good pay rates, and desirable benefits, but it’s not enough to haphazardly throw these rewards around when an employee threatens to leave. It’s time to formalize how you’ll reward the talent you’ve worked so hard to cultivate. 

To reassure employees that they are valued and keep them engaged with your business, they need to know how you plan to recognize their hard work. Employees will want to know:

  • How will I be rewarded for my hard work? To address this concern, determine how you’ll distribute rewards and bonuses. Set criteria for promotions and pay raises. Consider both advancement to a new role and within a current role, and then be transparent about how top employees will be recognized.
  • How will I be evaluated? Don’t just think about performance, but also consider tenure, ability, and initiative. You may even want to create a matrix of milestones for each bonus, reward, or salary band. That way employees know what’s expected of them to get to the next level and can set goals to get there.
  • Who decides which employees get recognized and when? An employee will want to know if they automatically get recognition or if they will need to apply. Maybe they will rely on their manager to recognize them. The specifics can vary, but make sure the criteria are applied consistently and fairly.

Above all, be transparent about the reward and advancement structure and ask for employee input as well. After all, you want their rewards to mean something to them too.

Start your high-potential program with Together

Your high-potential employees want to succeed, but they also want your business to succeed. For this, they need room to grow and develop their skills. It is up to you to give them this space so they can do right by your organization.

This is where Together comes in.

As part of a high-potential leadership program, our mentorship software will help employees find the best mentors and give them a space to interact and learn.

An intelligent algorithm connects relevant leaders with high-potential mentees so they can create a relationship that meets their needs. 

The best part? Our reporting tools can help you track the progress of your high-potentials so you can see the success of the program as it happens.

Ready to get started? Request a free demo today.

About the Author

close button