High-Potential Talent Development: Why Everything is Going to Change

Kevin Wilde is the Chief Learning Officer of General Mills, a multinational Fortune 500 company that employees more than 35,000 people. Wilde is an acclaimed speaker and recipient of multiple awards including CLO of the Year by Chief Learning Officer magazine. His many responsibilities include talent management and executive development.
Kevin Wilde
Wilde, who is scheduled to present at the i4cp 2015 Conference, March 16-19, took part in a recent conversation with i4cp on the current state of high potential talent development.

Why do companies need to rethink high potential talent development?

KW: Recent studies have found that most companies are quite dissatisfied with the output of their leadership development efforts. Figuring out what actually helps high potential employees excel is essential.

Plus, there's an ongoing battle for quality talent, and moving forward, companies will need to get better talent ready sooner than ever before. Whether it's the demographics of more Baby Boomers retiring or inadequate pipelines, there's going to be a greater and more compelling argument for smarter investments in talent acceleration. Everything is going to change.

So the most overlooked issue is the shifting workforce age?

I think that's one dimension of it. There are certainly more opportunities as Boomers move on, but at the same time, jobs themselves are getting bigger and more demanding.

The other part is the thinner talent pool for these new jobs. In the past, there was a larger population of workers and openings didn't come up as often. That's not the case today and companies are going to have to get much smarter at making really good investments in helping people fill their potential.

What are the elements necessary for ensuring success with Hi-Po talent development?

Broadly speaking, one of the elements necessary for success is a formal strategy--one that identifies, selects, and manages high potential talent.

Fundamentally, we've had a practice in our industry of just throwing training classes, executive programs, mentors and coaches, and action learning at high potentials based on the fad of the day. I think we're going to have to get much more scientific about what we're really trying to accomplish and which development tools provide real evidence of productivity.

High potentials understand that they navigate their own career development differently. They focus early on building skills like being coachable and collaborative, and avoiding the traps and derailments that often crop up when bright, young hardworking talent starts moving ahead. So it's critical to create a plan that surrounds them with the right kinds of resources.

Why do you think companies struggle with developing high potential employees?

There are many reasons that companies struggle with developing high potential employees.

First of all, HR tends to be fairly episodic in the approach and development of talent, trying something for a few years and then quickly moving on to something else. The fundamentals are never properly put in place and the plan is not executed long enough for it to really bear fruit.

Second, I think that HR chases whims--focusing too much energy on the newest talent fads.

And third, the reality is that this is a tough game. It's not easy to develop talent and it's a practice where all of the tools and disciplines need to be mastered; you really have to work hard at it. But even then, success is not guaranteed.

Where do you see the field of high potential talent development heading in the next decade?

In the old days, HR might stretch someone into a job he's not ready for and it would be ok because he's surrounded by trusting colleagues. In the future, more and more people are going to be put into bigger jobs before they're ready. I think that the gap is going to accelerate to the point that many people who are stretched into roles will be surrounded by many other people who are stretched into roles.

One of the interesting trends right now is not just supporting any one leader as he or she is stretched into a new role, but helping the collective team with many people trying to learn their jobs at the same time. I believe that over the next decade there will be a team intervention in addition to an individual development intervention.

What are you most looking forward to at the i4cp 2015 Conference?

I had the good fortune to attend the conference a few years ago and the thing that I recall is the agenda. There's a great mixture of presenters--from authors to practice leaders and people in the field--and I found the informal conversations to be as meaningful as whatever was coming from the stage.

I also think the conference is well-paced in terms of the different presentation styles and audience engagement.

I find that, from time to time, great professionals have to step away from the fray to get reenergized with a few good ideas and this conference impressed me with the kind of format where you can do those things.

Kevin Wilde's presentation at the i4cp 2015 Conference will incorporate five years of his professional research to build a comprehensive set of practices for accelerating high potentials. Don't miss the most important human capital event of the year. Register by January 23 and save $300.