Dealing with problems has been, understandably, the top priority for most executives, senior managers and HR professionals in recent years. But, if you haven’t been paying much attention to your top talent, go-to experts and in-the-pipeline leaders, it’s time to start.

“Organizations approach talent management as something that is done to and for an organization’s high-potential employees, in service of the organization’s needs,” says CCL’s Roland Smith. “Even if you identify, reward and invest in high potentials, you probably haven’t considered the impact these efforts are having on the talent themselves.”

Smith, along with CCL colleague Michael Campbell, conducted a study of employees in the leadership pipeline to better understand how they experience the high-potential process, what they currently receive from their organizations, and what they want from their organizations. “Understanding what we call the view from the pipe is critically important for matching, developing and retaining the talent an organization needs,” Campbell explains. Key findings of the research show:

Formal identification as a high potential is important. Most survey respondents (77 percent) place a high degree of importance on being formally identified as a high potential in their organization. The study showed several clear differences between high potentials who have been formally named and those who are perceived to be high potentials. Notably, only 14 percent of formally identified high potentials are seeking other employment. That number more than doubles (33 percent) for employees who are informally identified as high potentials.

High potentials expect more development, support and investment — and they get it. High potentials receive more development opportunities — such as special assignments and training as well as mentoring and coaching from senior leaders — than other employees. This is as it should be, according to the respondents: 84 percent of high potentials agree that organizations should invest more in them and other valuable talent. The extra investment is one reason why being formally recognized as a high potential is considered important.

High potentials feel good about their status — but it has its downside. Survey respondents generally expressed positive feelings about being identified as a high potential by their organization. At the same time, the designation isn’t exclusively a win for those in the pipeline. For some, there is a feeling of increased pressure or anxiety around high expectations or performance; others experience frustration around the organization’s unclear intentions.

High potentials are more committed and engaged when they have a clear career path. The most frequently mentioned way to increase commitment and engagement among all high potentials is to help them identify a career path. High potentials want to have a picture of where they are going and to understand next steps in terms of development, experience and movement. In addition, as high potentials receive greater responsibility, they are also looking for greater authority to make decisions that have a significant impact on the organization.

High potentials help develop others. While high potentials are the recipients of increased opportunities and investment, they are also talent developers in the organization. Many (84 percent) are actively identifying and developing potential in others. They have insight and experience that is needed for developing the next layer of high potentials, as well as the larger talent pool.

Understanding the perspective of those in the pipeline suggests that organizations should consider three key strategies as part of their talent management efforts, according to Smith and Campbell:

  1. Be deliberate about process transparency. Given the value that high potentials place on access and opportunity, organizations need to consider how clear and direct they’re being with their talent about the degree of investment high potentials can expect.
  2. Create a mutually beneficial relationship between the organization and the talent. Mutuality addresses the benefits individuals receive as employees of the organization, but also takes into account and makes explicit the benefits the organization receives from its employees.
  3. Leverage high potentials as developers of talent. The organization’s investment in a high potential’s development shouldn’t stop with that individual. Make it clear to high potentials that ‘moving up’ means developing others. Help high potentials learn how to use challenging assignments and coaching to develop the talent around them.

To learn more about CCL’s View from the Pipe research, download the CCL white paper High-Potential Talent: A View from Inside the Leadership Pipeline.

Roland Smith will also be presenting “A View from the Pipe” research at the Succession Management Conference hosted by the Conference Board and co-sponsored by CCL, October 18-20, 2010 in New York, NY. For more information, please visit and useCoupon Code CE1 to receive a $300 discount.

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