Identifying high potentials is a complex task, but the real challenge begins when the high potentials need to be managed, supported and motivated.
This is where the high potentials’ line managers come in. They are critical to the success of any high potential programme yet are too often overlooked during design and implementation.
Overt cynicism about identifying high potentials can mask the fears many line managers experience about them. Often they believe that, if individuals know they are seen as high potential and ‘different’, they will have unrealistic expectations – about special attention or speed of promotion – and an inclination to leave if these are not met. Equally, many line managers are afraid that people who are not high potentials will feel undervalued. So, rather than recognise that members of their team need developing differently, they continue to treat everyone the same. They may even describe everyone in their team as a high potential simply to avoid honest conversations with those who are not.
By contrast, line managers who do handle their high potentials well are those who can think more strategically and put the wider organisation first. They see the need for a strong leadership pipeline and know that dynamic organisations must equip themselves to meet unpredictable leadership needs. Effective line managers often talk proudly about the team members they have developed and who have gone on to take senior roles.
The key is to involve line managers in the design of the organisation’s talent programme. It can take time, but it pays off very quickly. They are better able than talent specialists to connect the benefits and design of talent processes with their bottom line impacts. And line manager input fosters buy-in across the business.
Regardless of how well-trained your managers are, it is important to support them to motivate people of all levels of potential. Having tools that enable managers to differentiate confidently between performance and potential is an important start. Working alongside them to generate ideas for developing people in a tough business environment is critical. And ensuring that they themselves are getting the right development addresses any personal threat they might feel from high potentials. Organisations that do this well reap real performance benefits from ensuring that everyone is managed and developed in ways that reflect their levels of potential.