How to Develop High Potential Employees

Great organizations separate themselves from the crowd by identifying and cultivating high-potential (HIPO) employees. To truly set the bar, organizations need to put together a thoughtful strategy that not only draws and retains HIPOs, but benefits the whole team. 

Why is it so difficult for organizations to recognize and nurture those with the potential to drive the most success? It starts with leadership making an active change in how they approach development. 

This article delves into how to develop high potential employees, common misconceptions, and strategies to navigate challenges in developing HIPO employees.. 

How to Identify HIPO Employees

A key first step is to avoid assumptions and challenge your biases. HR leaders often operate under set beliefs to identify HIPO employees. Typically, HIPOs are seen as ambitious, eager for promotion, adept at building relationships, and flexible enough to put in extra effort. It’s natural to assume they’ll seek out mentoring, coaching, and training opportunities, and will make themselves known to management. 

These assumptions that are far from reality.

Relying solely on the self-identification of HIPO employees means that leaders risk missing a wide swath of their HIPO population. Specific personality traits, such as extroversion and self-advocacy, are not prerequisites for outsized performance—there are many ways of being successful throughout an organization.

Similarly, the overemphasis on skill assessment tools and personality tests to identify HIPO talents risks creating a one-dimensional view of employee potential. It is a mistake to believe that development should only focus on people best suited to leadership roles. 

Why neglect the rest of your talent? That’s a guaranteed way to lead to low engagement scores within your organization and, ultimately, the type of job dissatisfaction that can lead to low retention.

Not everyone knows how to develop high potential employees. Few people possess the talent to effectively manage.

Via Gallup

The second step is to recognize the power and potential at every level of your organization. Tackling the challenge of developing high-potential employees requires a shift in perspective. Potential exists at every level of your organization, even if that’s not immediately apparent. Many HIPO employees remain hidden for a multitude of reasons. Maybe they’re a new hire, an individual contributor, or in the wrong role for their most valuable talents. 

These individuals may not be destined for leadership, but they may hold invaluable potential as problem-solvers, decision-makers, and innovators. 

Recognizing this diverse range of abilities means taking an inclusive approach to talent development. That means not just focusing on those who actively seek management roles but providing other avenues of growth. 

Managers should view the development of their team members as a fundamental aspect of their duties. When they do, they increase trust and productivity. And that means a more engaged, satisfied, and loyal workforce.

Tapping this potential requires organizations to integrate development opportunities into their culture.

The most effective development happens when listening and acting with your employees is part of managers’ relationship with their team members, weaving development into daily life. For managers, this means a regular cadence for growth conversations. They must feel supported to create an environment where employees are encouraged to discuss career aspirations and development needs.

Managers often fear that developing team members for new opportunities might result in losing key contributors. However, this mindset is outdated. Regular employee coaching and development programs are designed for growth, aligned with organizational goals, and foster a forward-thinking work environment.

Set a New Standard for Your Organization

The third step is to focus on the development of employee strengths right from the start. If company leadership isn’t acting with a plan, employee development doesn’t just happen. With 67% of executives saying their leadership development programs don’t work, it’s clear that HR leaders are struggling to develop future-ready leaders. Research from Deloitte found that 80% of respondents rated leadership as a high priority, but only 41% thought their organizations were ready to meet the leadership requirements.

The plan of action is two-fold:

First, leaders must integrate growth and development into the fabric of their organization from the start. The commitment to development should be evident from the recruitment phase, where training and development opportunities are highlighted as key benefits. Doing so not only attracts potential HIPO employees, but sets clear expectations for growth. 

Second, these development plans should revolve around employee strengths. The Gallup State of the American Manager Report shows that strengths-based feedback reduces turnover rates, increases productivity, and more, as outlined in the graphic below.

Unsure how to develop high potential employees? Fostering strengths is an effective approach.

Via Gallup

Avoid Generalizing Development Goals for Your HIPO Employees 

The answer to the question “how to develop high potential employees” is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Aligning development plans with employees’ strengths, motivations, and aspirations is vital for retaining and nurturing HIPO employees. 

Don’t forget that the development process should be a collaborative, two-way street. Employees who are coached and trained feel ownership over their development and are more likely to work towards their potential. 

Recognizing that a HIPO employee might be satisfied in their current role can ensure that you help them improve and grow in their day-to-day work and output without forcing a path to management on them. 

Distinct talents and career aspirations can drive effective development at large. Rather than simply promoting to retain, promote for success.

How to Develop High Potential Employees: Answered 

If you want long-term success, start developing your HIPO employees now, rather than later. By challenging biases and recognizing potential at every level, leaders can create a more engaged environment, nurturing HIPO talent and organizational success. 

Need help getting HIPO employees identified and coached? Through award-winning employee coaching programs, PILOT helps organizations develop talent effectively.

Book a demo today!


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