How to Identify and Develop High-Potential Employees

Do your managers know how to identify high-potential employees and develop them for future leadership roles? According to Gartner, high-potential employees are 91% more valuable to businesses than their peers and losing them can cost up to 3.5 times their annual salary!

Organizations face increased employee turnover and decreased employee engagement in today’s business environment. To overcome these problems, leaders must identify actively engaged employees with potential and desire for growth within the company. 

What are the Characteristics of a High-Potential Employee? 

The first step to identifying and developing the right employees is understanding the 10 characteristics of high-potential employees. 

  • Emotional Intelligence and Social Skills – One of the most significant predictors of leadership success is having high emotional intelligence and good social skills. Employees who manage their emotions effectively in stressful situations and build positive relationships are precious to any organization. 
  • Works Well Independently –  High-potential employees deliver great results without constant supervision. They are responsible and reliable and do their best work when they are not micro-managed. 
  • Shows Initiative – These high-performing employees go above and beyond expectations. They are the type of person who sees something that needs to be done and does it without being asked. 
  • Exudes Confidence – High-potential employees will present themselves with confidence. They know their strengths and weaknesses and quickly earn the trust and respect of their team. 
  • Has a Competitive Spirit – Employees with potential enjoy being good at their job. They appreciate friendly competition that inspires everyone on a team to accomplish their goals and improve their performance. 
  • Highly Adaptable – Adaptability is a critical factor for leaders at every level. Employees that adapt quickly when a deadline is changed or a project is sidelined are well-suited to new challenges and responsibilities. 
  • Shows Commitment to Company Goals and Values – Employees who embody the organization’s values and are committed to its goals are valuable assets. They understand the importance of not just reaching goals but exceeding them. 
  • Asks Questions and Enjoys Learning – Curiosity and a love of learning are vital characteristics of great leaders. High-potential employees seek out learning opportunities and want to know more about how the company operates.
  • Accepts Constructive Criticism and Feedback – These employees often seek out feedback. They understand that constructive criticism can help them improve their performance and grow as people. 
  • Helps and Supports Their Peers – Employees with leadership potential may already be leading others, no matter their current title. These employees will happily lend their colleagues a helping hand or word of encouragement when needed. Team members will naturally look to these high-potential employees for advice with challenges. 

How Do Leaders Find the High-Potential Employees on Their Team? 

It is important to remember that high-potential employees may have some or all of the above characteristics. Managers must make an effort to spot this potential in their employees. 

Sometimes leaders overlook employees with high potential because they don’t require much supervision. They may be highly skilled, emotionally intelligent and capable of much more, but uncomfortable with self-promotion. 

To find these hidden gems on your team, remember that most managers overestimate their ability to detect potential in their employees. Also, performance evaluations are unreliable at best. Few managers have the courage to provide candid feedback or explicitly state that one employee is better than another. 

To improve your ability to detect potential in your employees: 

  1. Set clear criteria for promotion. It should be detailed and describe what behaviors and achievements equate to high potential in your organization. 
  2. Focus on soft skills like communication, creativity and problem-solving. Don’t just evaluate current or past performance. Personality traits like self-awareness, conscientiousness and empathy are better indicators of potential. 
  3. Provide developmental support for employees trying to hit targets but not achieving them. Potential can be trained and improved over time!

How to Develop High-Potential Employees

After finding high-potential employees, it’s essential to keep them interested and help them grow for future positions. Retaining top talent and preparing them for future roles requires a consistent strategy. 

First, if you feel an employee has potential– tell them! One of the biggest mistakes managers make is allowing high-potential employees to wonder if anyone notices them. Employee recognition can improve employee morale, engagement and retention. Let them know you see their potential and are glad they are on your team.  

Next, create an effective leadership development program. Very few organizations have the staffing or time to create and execute an effective development program for their employees. It can be beneficial to enlist the help of leadership training experts!  

For example, Crestcom offers leadership workshops, supervisor training, manager training and continuing education. Developing your team’s leadership skills is an investment in your organization’s future success.  

In addition to a formal training program, mentorship is a great way to engage and develop high-potential team members. Pair the employee with a more experienced leader to help them learn more about leading the organization. Mentors offer advice, coaching and valuable feedback to help promising employees grow as professionals. 

The Benefits of Identifying and Developing High-Potential Employees

Identifying the top talent in your organization can result in improved employee retention, productivity and engagement. And not just for the high-potential employee but for the entire team. Adding a high-potential employee to a team can boost productivity and performance by up to 15%. 

These valuable contributors are indispensable. They take on challenging tasks, make things run smoothly, and offer innovative solutions to complex problems. Taking the time to recognize their contributions is essential to keeping them on your team. Attracting and retaining these high-potential team members will give your organization a competitive advantage well into the future.