5 Essentials For a Successful High Potential Program

Amidst a global talent shortage, it is imperative for organizations to invest in a high potential development program for their best and brightest employees. These lessons can help to ensure success.

Two professional women discussing their organization's high potential development strategy

The number of organizations investing on structured high potential development initiatives is on the rise. This is a great sign of the realization that an organization's’ human capital is its true differentiator, and that it pays to invest on internal talent in the long run. However, for a high potential  program to yield the desired benefits, an organization may do well to ensure that some of the following elements are deliberated and addressed as they undertake this strategic initiative.


Top Management Alignment and Involvement
An effective high potential program is one that is by-the-business, and for-the-business. Hence, it is critical that the program has complete sponsorship (both during the design and execution phase) from the top management of the organization. This will ensure that the business is articulating their leadership needs in light of their strategy. Also, they then play a role in ensuring that the best talent is being identified from the larger pool into the program. The top management needs to play a role in the development journey too (best done by being sponsors/ mentors to Action Leaning Projects) in order to get a first-hand feel of how the participants are responding to the pressures of the program and if the needle moving for them or not.
Aligning HR Processes to Support the Program
What happens when a key role opens up in one part of the business that is a great fit (from competence, aspirations and organizations needs viewpoints) for a high potential employee in another part of the business? What if the immediate supervisor of this employee is not keen to let go? Does the organization has clearly defined processes to address such situations, or are the decisions ad-hoc? It is critical that an organization is clear in its own head and communicates and aligns all stakeholders on how it intends to deal with high potential mobility. Individual careers and aspirations should not be held ransom to power centers and ad-hoc decision making. This is not only compromising with the larger purpose of a high potential program, but also erodes credibility of the leadership leading to cynicism in the minds of the talent. 
Rigorous Selection Process
A high potential program should not be used by an organization as an R&R or engagement tool. In order to ensure that you are investing on the right talent that truly is a high potential, you should ensure you have a selection process which is robust and beyond biases. This starts by defining the entry criteria for the program, and continues with an assessment process that helps one differentiate between the chalk and the cheese. High potential programs are meant for employees who truly are up to it- both from a potential, and also from an attitudinal viewpoint. This will ensure that organizational resources are being invested right and will give us talent that is ready when one needs it most.   
Setting Participants Expectation Right
A well-structured high potential program by design needs to stretch the participants. It is important that the participants of the program understand this. They need to appreciate that the program will be demanding and will be over and above their day-job. This is a key element that needs to be communicated to the participants in order to ensure they are willing to do their part once into the program. They should not see this program as an automatic entitlement to promotions or any other benefits. Also, they need to understand that they need to keep delivering and actively participate in the program in order to continue to be part of the cohort. A high potential program is not an automatic guarantee of any benefits. It is important that some of these expectations are communicated and aligned in order to ensure active participation and no heartburns later. 
Bet on your People
The moment of truth for any high potential program is when a key role opens up in an organization. How confident are we then to take a bet on one of our own rather than look for talent from outside? We need to have confidence on our selection and development process. Giving the right opportunities and exposure to our internal talent at the right time is key. An over emphasis on “What Isn’t”, rather than “What Is” may send us on the hunt for a purple squirrel that does not exist. Also, when an organization reposes is faith on employees part of a high potential program, it sends a strong positive message to the larger workforce and makes the program that much more aspirational. 

Related Leadership Development Advice:
Most Likely to Lead: Start investing in the right people.
Onboarding Leadership Coaching: Improve the Return on Your Investment
Beyond Training: Creative Thoughts on Developing Millennials