Take a Fresh Look at Your Approach to Top Talent

High-potential talent is rare and valuable. These emerging leaders and thinkers are the change-makers and problem-solvers your business, your customers, even the world, desperately needs. Yet, many common systems and policies aimed at developing high-potentials are outdated, impersonal, and may even backfire.

“In particular, it is often easy to confuse high-potentials and high-professionals, especially in organizations that tend to put a premium on technical skills,” says CCL’s George Hallenbeck.

“Both are high learners and high performers who can deliver a lot of value to an organization, but high potentials tend to be broad and adaptable in their learning and skills while high professionals are typically more deep and focused.”

Hallenbeck’s take on developing top talent lies at the intersection of several themes, including learning agility, experience-based development and CCL’s Assessment, Challenge, Support model of leadership development. He is the presenter of a new CCL webinar, Strengthen Your Strategic Assets: A Proven Model For High Potential Development.

If you’re ready to take a fresh look at your organization’s approach to high-potential talent, start by asking these 20 questions. Your answers—or the issues they bring up—can help you set direction as you seek to identify, develop, and retain key talent.

Assess

  1. How do we accurately identify high potentials?
  2. How do we determine who might be a high potential?
  3. How do we avoid false positives?
  4. What is it exactly that we are trying to measure when assessing potential?
  5. How many different ways do we measure potential?
  6. How often do we measure it?
  7. We’ve measured what we wanted to — now what?

Challenge

  1. How do we develop high potentials?
  2. Do we develop high potentials differently than others? If so, how?
  3. What are we developing them for?
  4. Do we develop their strengths, their needs or both?
  5. How much challenge do we expose them to?
  6. Are some development experiences better than others?
  7. How do we evaluate the success of development efforts?
  8. Do we allocate more resources to developing high potentials than others?
  9. A high potential has successfully completed a developmental experience — now what?

Support

  1. Who is responsible for a high potential’s development?
  2. Do we take a sink-or-swim approach with high potentials?
  3. What happens if a high potential fails?

Question No. 20 should be asked over and over again—by you and by each high-potential employee. It is the clarifying question that can re-focus and re-energize an employee’s development. It is the question that can help figure out which experiences and relationships are essential. It is the underlying point of development.

  1. Potential for what?

“Potential for what? is one of the most important questions you can pose when considering high potentials,” says Hallenbeck.

“Potential comes in many forms and, therefore, can go in as many directions. Knowing the leadership development journey you intend to take your talent on is a critical component to success.”

4 thoughts on “Don’t Confuse High Potentials with High Professionals

  1. Steve Wilhite says:

    Interesting and useful, but seems to neglect — and therefore devalue — the “high professionals” mentioned in the title.

    1. Lauren McSwain-Starrett says:

      We absolutely don’t mean to devalue all the high-professionals — in fact, in addition to their specific expertise, they are often project leaders and informal influencers. Often this expertise is then tapped, or assumed to be the same species of talent, as the high-potentials. We think taking a differentiated approach to talent development is essential, within the hi-po category and also with others in the organization.

      Look for future articles about the hi-pros, but here’s one to check out now: http://www.ccl.org/articles/leading-effectively-articles/whats-your-leadership-brand/. Thanks for letting us know your reaction!

  2. Steve Wilhite says:

    Interesting and useful, but seems to neglect — and therefore devalue — the “high professionals” mentioned in the title.

    1. Lauren McSwain-Starrett says:

      We absolutely don’t mean to devalue all the high-professionals — in fact, in addition to their specific expertise, they are often project leaders and informal influencers. Often this expertise is then tapped, or assumed to be the same species of talent, as the high-potentials. We think taking a differentiated approach to talent development is essential, within the hi-po category and also with others in the organization.

      Look for future articles about the hi-pros, but here’s one to check out now: https://www.ccl.org/articles/leading-effectively-articles/whats-your-leadership-brand/. Thanks for letting us know your reaction!

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