Rocket Launch

Five Steps to Accelerate High-Potential Employees' Launch Toward Leadership

In a world where business agility is prized, organizations seek to prepare their next cadre of leadership talent more thoroughly and more quickly than their competitors. In addition to identifying high-potential talent, providing them with the right developmental opportunities and selecting relevant success measures, firms are aiming to create a robust high-potential employee program that makes better leaders and accelerates their path to leadership.

i4cp recently conducted a development study in conjunction with several companies in its peer working group, the Executive Leadership Development Exchange. The findings - to be explored in detail when the report is released in April - inform a five-step framework linking the acceleration of Hi-Pos to market performance.

1. Define successful outcomes for your high-potential development program.

First, determine exactly what you want to accomplish with your development program. How will you demonstrate success? High-performance organizations (HPOs - based on revenue growth, profitability, customer satisfaction, and market share) use formal measurement tools to determine the effectiveness of their leadership development efforts. i4cp confirmed that practice's positive correlation to market performance.

To gauge success, measure quality of movement, which tracks the effectiveness of promotions and critical roles filled, along with more traditional HR metrics such as retention rates and performance ratings. High-performance organizations also use 360 assessments, administered pre- and post-program, and even customer retention data.

2. Choose talent purposefully; make branding and assessments work for you.

Know who you want to attract to your organization. A company's brand can draw a talent pool that fits its culture. More than two-thirds of high-performance organizations use assessments to screen participants for their Hi-Po development programs, and to determine when candidates are ready for promotion, a key differentiator of HPOs versus low-performing organizations.

Transparency in identifying Hi-Pos and informing them of their status helps organizations to clarify the kind of business skills and behaviors that are valued. Three-quarters of study participants from HPOs identify high-potential employees. Yet, of this group, just 29% said they inform their Hi-Pos of that status, while 71% did not.

Don't forget diversity, either. Develop your Hi-Po talent pool with an eye toward building a succession pipeline that reflects the diversity of your customer base. At AIG, employees in the firm's People to Watch program are culled from the ranks of mid-level managers. "We have so many diverse high-potentials around the globe," said Courtney Williams, Program Manager in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. "People to Watch was created to identify them and prepare them for a future with our company."

3. Excel at coaching; it is a key element.

High-performance organizations know how to guide their Hi-Pos toward leadership readiness. Two-thirds of those companies use coaching to accelerate that journey, providing their Hi-Pos with performance coaching and opportunities to gain new skills. i4cp found that a coaching culture is a success factor significantly correlated to market performance.

However, coaching is easier said than done. Provide opportunities for managers to practice coaching skills. Experiential training (enabling managers to role-play coaching, for instance) can help hone listening, probing and feedback skills, in turn, helping to build managers' confidence and their ability to gain the trust of the Hi-Pos they coach. More coaching strategies are outlined in the i4cp/AMA report Coaching: What Really Works, which stresses the importance of the right professional and personal match of coach and coachee.

4. Expose high-potential employees to a broad business foundation.

Three times as many HPOs as lower performers credit a broad business curriculum as a success factor in their Hi-Po development programs. To build such a curriculum, involve senior leaders in designing foundational business programs. Ask C-level officers from marketing, operations, sales, finance and other key functions to advise on the learning curriculum for Hi-Pos and to assist in creating learning tools to use internally.

Some organizations partner with or send high-potential employees to external programs. Institutions most frequently mentioned were INSEAD, Harvard, Wharton and Stanford.

5. Focus on visibility and challenge to develop high-potential employees.

How do you prime your Hi-Pos for success? The top differentiator that distinguishes high-performance organizations is their willingness to provide high-profile stretch assignments to targeted employees.

Encourage teamwork by managers to share ideas for challenging new projects that aren't being addressed and to match those projects with Hi-Po talent. i4cp member organization Intel took this one step further. Its Developmental Opportunity Tool (DOT) is an online talent marketplace for short-term assignments that allows project owners and employees seeking development to find one another. Amreen Madhani, HR Manager, said, "We were so siloed. Everyone had their own tools, but there was limited visibility to employees across the organization. We wanted an enterprise-wide solution." DOT fulfilled that need, successfully facilitating the completion of 2,000 assignments to date.

More insights and recommendations are featured in i4cp's Accelerating High-Potential Employees on the Path to Leadership report, coming in April.