Every organisation has high potential talent (HiPo) within its employee base, whether the management team sees it or not. These individuals will be the drivers of the future, the talent that will take the company in new directions and ultimately move into leadership roles. This pool of internal capabilities provides a huge resource for a business, but all too often these HiPo’s are exiting a company before they’ve had chance to really make an impact due to a lack of development opportunities and a need for a more challenging role.

As a case in point, my colleague Pip Clarke recently reported the results of a Talent Survey carried out by a&dc, which found that 67% of organisations had no development programmes in place for high potential candidates. Considering the vital role these individuals can, and will, play in a company’s competitive advantage, retaining and training them should be of high priority. So what must HR teams do to address this? In the first instance, recognising the traits that make a high potential employee and ensuring that processes are implemented to support line mangers in doing this is important.


Historically, line managers have been responsible for identifying those individuals that possess the potential to become a top performer, but the onus should not stop here. Anyone who has a vested interest in managing talent within an organisation is also responsible for ensuring top staff do not slip through the net.

It is the responsibility of HR teams to ensure that managers and decision makers understand what to look for in HiPo’s and determine how much or how little support is needed in this. It’s important to remember that while current leaders are likely to have reached their current status through working with people and developing an understanding of what makes a good employee, there will be a level of bias that HR professionals have to avoid. The views of line managers are all too often influenced by people they can relate to – someone who is a ‘mirror image’ of themselves – or those who simply shout the loudest. HR teams need to instil within the company the key traits they should be looking for in high potentials, including:

·         Energy and enthusiasm for their role

·         Proactively seeking developmental experiences

·         Constantly looking for a challenge

·         Prepared to challenge existing organisational practices

·         Inspire and motivate others around them

Early identification of these behaviours puts HR teams in a better position to develop and retain the leaders of the future.


Identification often relies on managerial skills and judgement. In comparison, the nomination stage is generally a more structured process which takes individuals through a more formal development diagnostic or skills analysis. The nomination process is generally a means of assessing those from the initial identification stage to ensure the right individuals are placed on the high potential development programme.

The chosen methodology and tools for the nomination programme will be defined by the development programme itself. Regardless, though, the focus should always be on the key behaviours you’re looking to develop, with input from line managers.

The nomination process will vary from company to company and it’s consequently valuable to seek assistance from an external expert. However, there are a few key tools that should be utilised. Online Situational Judgement Tests (SJTs) provide an objective view of an individual’s ability to make sound judgements. An SJT also provides the individual with feedback, meaning that even if they are unsuccessful they still receive some positive development support.

An online 360 degree survey provides subjective, but useful feedback from a number of sources, enabling HR teams to identify those individuals who are performing not only successfully, but also consistently.

Application forms are also a common method for nominating individuals and provide a way to empower employees in their career development. These forms need to be clear and consistent to reduce inconsistencies in their marking. While there is the possibility that applicants may not be truthful in their responses, verifying results with the relevant line manager can mitigate this.


Finally, the validation stage is a more in-depth benchmarking process which audits the behaviours of those who have demonstrated the highest levels of potential so far. This usually consists of a Development Centre, but can also incorporate 360 degree feedback. The aim of this stage is to identify an individual’s strengths and development needs against leadership level criteria to develop targeted training programmes, or to determine whether an individual is right for the HiPo development programme.

If the objective of this stage is to de-select those who do not possess the necessary skills to progress into leadership roles, it is necessary to ensure they remain motivated following the assessment. For example, consider how the outcome of this stage could be used to develop the individual further and set targets for their progression.

High potential talents will give a business its competitive edge and will be the driver of future success, but they won’t hang around if the chance to progress and develop isn’t there. It will quite simply be detrimental to succession plans, talent management and future candidate attraction if the right systems are not in place to recognise and reward these individuals.