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  • Writer's pictureJill Hauwiller

Developing and Retaining High Potential Employees

Is your organization engaging and developing your high performing and high potential employees? Stretching their talents to help them discover their full range of capabilities might take a different approach than your organization’s standard learning and developing tracks. If creating a different or custom approach for this group of employees sounds overwhelming, know that it doesn’t have to be. More importantly, the benefits of keeping high potential employees engaged at your organization outweigh the costs of helping them grow, by a lot.

What do high potential employees need?


We all want to feel like the work we do matters. This is especially important to many high potential employees. They do their best work when they feel connected to the organization’s mission and can also see how their work contributes to it. As an example, for doctors or nurses in a healthcare organization, it may be easier to point to their impact on mission than a key team member in the finance group. This is where leaders can provide context for how all of the pieces contribute to the whole. Your organization’s strategic plan can be a helpful tool for making these connections because they tend to offer more tangible goals that are connected to ongoing work than a mission statement does.


An organizational culture that supports and promotes internal advancement and learning, whether through promotions, opportunities for lateral moves, special project assignments, is essential for attracting and retaining high potential employees. This is a culture that demonstrates a high degree of psychological safety and prioritizes team achievements. High potential employees typically value organizational cultures that emphasize trust, transparency and inclusion and allow for candor and autonomy.

Another attribute of a welcoming culture for high potential employees is one that prioritizes employee engagement in development conversations. High potential employees (and employees, more generally) appreciate having a say in the direction and development of their careers. Regular conversations about development with their managers, mentors and sponsors can be incredibly engaging and motivating. This approach to development conversations is often found in workplaces that are comfortable with a high degree of autonomy.


Helping your high potential employees establish an internal network in your organization can help them connect more deeply to their work and create an environment where they feel comfortable using all of their professional skills. Starting with their primary work team is the most important. Encourage collaboration and sharing ideas, challenges and concerns within the team and using the expertise of the team to advance or address them as needed.

Consider establishing a cross-functional peer coaching program. This provides an opportunity for participants to learn about the work that other areas of the business are doing and contribute to collective problem solving. They also build key relationships in other parts of the business that are essential for organization-wide collaboration and gaining buy-in for high visibility initiatives.

Make sure that the contributions of high potential employees are visible to leadership — and that the employees know their work is being shared, with credit. A mentor relationship with a leader from a different team is another way to help your high potential employee learn and feel connected and supported.

Action learning

Special projects, despite their name, are a routine part of how many organizations get work done. Engaging high potential employees in these projects is a form of action learning, a powerful talent development and engagement tool. Participating in projects outside their core responsibilities helps high potential employees continue to build relationships throughout the organization and exposes them to new business challenges and opportunities. They broaden their understanding of the business


One-on-one coaching, with an outside executive coach, can be a valuable addition to a custom development program for high potential leaders. They get support from a leadership development expert, do a deeper level of self-reflection, and go through a guided process to learn from and respond to 360° feedback. A tailored coaching approach may incorporate formal learning, action learning project, and other program elements described above depending on the leader’s needs and development goals. The benefit for leaders and organizations of using coaching as part of a program is that it is a highly personalized approach with an inherent accountability model.

The case for investing in high potential employees’ development

These employees are your organization’s future internally promoted leaders. They will drive innovation and problem solving for years to come. Their contributions and ideas can accelerate team and organizational success. Plus, their intellect and capabilities give them choices about where and how to work. Investing in their growth can make your organization the one they choose to stick with.

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