A Leader’s Guide to Engaging High Potential Employees
There is always this one person in your team that you don’t want to lose. Not because he/she is your blue-eyed boy or girl, but because they never fail to complete a task, assignment or challenge. They always surprise you with their output, are always reliable and most likely a team player too. These are qualities of a high potential employee.
High potential employees are the ones who are able and willing to contribute the most to the company. These are the people, whom we all love to work with because of their passion, commitment and a constant desire to level up. Honestly, this is the group I love to train the most too because they are always excited to learn new things. They push their mental and professional boundaries for their own growth, as well as the growth of the company. High potential employees have their own set of values, principles, discipline, and manner of working. They are able to give their best to the company with confidence as they are aware of their worth.
However, as much as having such people on board is an asset for the company, equally high is the risk of losing such valuable talent. Therefore, leaders have a tough task of keeping these high potential employees engaged for as long as possible in the organisation.
Some common pitfalls
It becomes tough to retain high potential employee primarily because leaders are unable to identify who is their high potential employee. Here are the top three pitfalls to watch out for:
a. Fast does not equal smart
Just because a certain person is able to show quick results (this happens often in the case of a new hire) does not mean the person will be able to work at the same speed on a new task or new assignment. Similarly, if an employee is a quick learner, it does not imply that an employee who learns slowly may not have what it takes to be a high potential employee. Taking time to get to the depth of the project ensures the right solution is deployed based on expertise rather than the first best solution.
b. Past experience is not always an indicator of future performance
Just because an employee has had experience in a certain kind of project, and was successful at it, does not imply he/she will be able to exceed expectation on a new task or new assignment. This is because various factors influence an employee’s performance; such as work environment, team, reporting manager, office culture, personal circumstances, external factors, partners, etc. It is unlikely that all factors will always remain constant. One time hit performance or past experience are grounds for a second opportunity but not sufficient to consider the employee a high potential employee.
c. Beware of opportunistic performers
Certain employees find a loophole, then fix it and that too at the right time when everyone is watching (perhaps closer to their review period) and tend to cool down until the next window appears. At the face of it, they appear to be among your top performers but a closer look will help you establish a pattern. You may have to dig deeper in the data to find these outliers. The same data will help you highlight your consistent performers, who may not necessarily stand out at the top of the list during reviews.
So how does one zero down on these so-called high potential employees? Well here’s a definition to go by – a high potential employee will display consistent high performance across a variety of projects, situations, and scenarios; coupled with excellent team management skills and a positive attitude.
Here are some of the ways you can engage a high potential employee
A constantly growing employee is a one who is constantly seeking opportunities to learn too. They have a variety of needs and often tend to switch jobs in search for an answer to those needs. With the first step once you identify your high potential employees, the second step in engaging any high potential employee is that of identifying their needs. You need to cater to their need and ensure they stay motivated and engaged in your organisation. Here are some of the things that will help you understand the needs of high potential employees and how you can support them.
1. Provide transparency of information
One can perform their best only when they know every nuance of their trade. These high potential employees want all the information about the company in their hand to be able to take the best decisions. They prefer the company to be completely honest and transparent with them when it comes to defining expectations or plotting results. The more data (read information) they have access to, the better they tend to perform as they appreciate and value a holistic view.
If you happen to go through a lean period in your business, sharing those elements with your employees is also a complete must. There may be a risk of them leaving once they get to know this but a vast majority also chooses to stay back and support you for your honesty and transparency.
2. Give them a clear vision
They crave to have a clear line of sight when it comes to knowing the business strategy. They need to know if and where they fit in the jigsaw puzzle and that the tasks they do really add value to the company. To perform well today they make sure that they know what is expected of them in the future.
They love challenges, assignments where they can prove their abilities and importance. Hence, at every project briefing mention what exactly you plan to achieve. Share your vision and mindset with them in an unaltered and clear way. The more clarity they have, the higher is their probability of being more productive.
3. Don’t oversimplify; challenge them in the right way
Every time you have a new project, you tend to offer them a way to approach it as well. This defines the boundaries and offers the simplest way to reach the desired goal. While this is an excellent way to deal with most employees, high potential employees differ here as well. Rather than being told of a simple way, they would instead prefer a good challenge to overcome. This not just helps them test their skills but also gives them a chance to prove themselves in front of you and their other managers.
Your professional approach of assigning them the project and leaving it to them would bring about a sense of responsibility in such employees. And if they have any questions, they would be more than happy to approach you rather than being told what needs to be done. Allow freedom and give them time and space to come out with their doubts and creative ways of dealing with the projects. Our clients who tried this testify that this one small change has positively increased their productivity multi-fold.
4. Provide the right feedback
One of the most crucial elements of working is the feedback that you give. Your high potential employees are driven by curiosity and would often expect honest and regular feedback from you. Having said that I have seen a lot of them changing jobs even after getting feedback. This is because the feedback isn’t communicated in the right way.
Feedback, if positive, could be given in front of all to up the morale of the employee. However, if you have a constructive or negative feedback, a more in-person approach is preferred. Have actionable pointers that they could work upon or research and improvise upon. Avoid phrases like ‘there are many options, you need to search for it online and you will get it”. A better approach could be where you suggest them specific resources they could refer and improve their knowledge or skill with.
5. Invest in their learning and development
Yet another thing that a majority of high potential employees across organisations have confessed to me is their desire to advance in their careers. They are in constant pursuit of opportunities to learn and develop at the role. They are never satisfied with the mundane but rather look for improving professionally.
To cater to this, you need to invest in creating and offering adequate opportunities for training of such people. Allow them to pursue additional courses or support their desire to improve their knowledge from elsewhere. Your interest and support in their learning and development (monetarily or professionally through leaves or other incentives) will positively boost their morale and also win you their loyalty in the long run.
6. Offer opportunities and recognition
Like each one of us, high potential employees are driven by opportunities to advance in their careers and to develop professionally. They expect to participate in programs and receive rewards that are personalised and that recognise them for their time and efforts. Appreciation can be called as a key force that drives these employees towards perfection.
They look for an organisation that values them as their asset, appreciates their hard work and give them their due recognition. They are always open for criticism as that gives them a chance and direction to improve and grow. A constructive feedback along with an acknowledgment of their efforts and time is something that helps them to give their best to the company.
To conclude, I’d like to add, that despite all the support and motivation, sometimes high potential employees leave anyways. In my experience that happens mostly to explore unchartered opportunities. Yes, losing a high potential employee is distasteful. Many leaders struggle with letting them go and sometimes it translates into a badly handled exit; leaving no room for the employee to come back to your team if they change their mind. Afterall he/she was among the best employees you had, let them leave feeling that way and they will stay loyal to you despite parting ways.
At Yellow Spark, we can help you not just identify and retain these high potential employees but also guide you on how to train them into leadership roles and prepare them for succession. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to know more.
Author Profile: Deepam Yogi is an adventurer at heart, socially conscious in her gut and professionally a strategic consultant. She co-founded Yellow Spark to support organisations to build workplaces that people love being a part of. Deepam describes herself as a shy yet opinionated writer and firmly believes that most answers to complex issues lie in simple communication.