The Curious Case of the Leaking High Potential Boat

High potential employees are a hot commodity in today’s world of work. Are your leaders doing everything they can to identify, challenge and retain the high potentials in your organization?

I recall with sincere fondness the memory of playing a few childhood games – Life, Monopoly, Chutes and Ladders (Snakes and Ladders), Scotland Yard and Ludo.

Each of these games has some message or theme associated that could be related in some form or other to the Corporate World – risk/reward, entrepreneurial spirit, getting ahead with hard work, perseverance, moving two steps back after a mistake made, etc.

The player who leads the game despite all the associated risk and hard work, the player who shows the right attitude, the player who balances risk with caution and aggression with diffidence can be referred to as the “Celebrated” High Potential.

Speaking in simple terms, high potentials are employees who demonstrate capability to be groomed into future leaders. Research conducted by the Harvard Business Review shows high potentials represent the top 3 to 5% of a company’s talent. But, the big question that arises is that if HiPo’s represent such a niche population of the organization who are performing well and seem to at the top of their game, why is it so difficult to retain the high potentials in India? A recent study conducted by the CEB reveals that 25% of employers in India– identified high potential employees plan to leave their current companies within the year as compared to 10% in 2006. This is quite alarming especially when combined with the data that in India, 84% of HiPo’s leave the organization within two years of completing the in-house High Potential Development Program (2013 Right Management High Potential Survey).

The war for talent is showing no signs of letting up even in sectors that are experiencing significant growth. Even though organizations across the globe have some form of leadership development program specifically catering to the high potentials, translating them into action is much more difficult and remains a challenge. Most firms have trouble keeping the top talent despite their large investments in talent management programs. So why do they jump ship so soon?

As a consultant with Right Management, I have had the opportunity to manage and support multiple leader development and high potential development assignments. To begin with, high performing employees are not necessarily high potentials. High potentials are merely a subset of the high performers, with research claiming that only 14% of high performers are considered high potentials.

What I have observed is that high potentials are very hard to hold onto because they are in huge demand. If one firm wants them, then so would their competitors. Employees consider the HiPo development programs as opportunities for professional growth; however they can be a costly expense for the organization if the employees do not stay back with the organization. The real cost of losing a High Potential employee is up to the tune of 3 ½ times (source: the employee’s annual compensation and that includes:

There’s hope yet. In order to keep the high potential employees around long enough for them to reach their potential, organizations need to engage them in a different way. They should be:

Recognizing high potential employees isn’t easy, but it is necessary. While you may have a slew of high performing workers, only a handful of them have the particular set of skills and abilities to effectively lead a business or organization. The bigger problem, however, is retaining these employees long enough to transition them into company leadership roles. Because HiPo employees are such a hot commodity in the workplace, employers have to stimulate and challenge them in order to maintain high engagement levels. Doing so helps to reduce the dropout rate from high potential development programs and subsequently, increasing the internal leadership success rate.

Related Content:
How to Avoid the 3 Most Common Pitfalls in Managing Your High Potential Program
How to Unleash the High Potential Talent in Your Organization
Is Your High Potential Program Relevant for the Talented Non-Manager?