How to Grow High Potentials

September 4, 2019 in
By Katie Sheppard

To finish off our conversations on high potentials, we wanted to cover how an organization can grow high potentials within their existing staff. Good news, there has been a recent shift with organizations spending more of their training budget on executive and supervisory level leadership, and employees are eager to learn more and develop in their careers. A study conducted by LinkedIn found that 94% of employees said they would stay longer if an organization invested in their learning and development. 

So you’re probably thinking, how do we invest in these employees? What if we invest in more courses for employees? Well, that strategy might sound easy at first, but there are a few challenges an organization must overcome to get the balance right. Research by Gallup suggests that up to 82% of the time, organizations fail to identify the right leadership candidate for the position, which can lead to lost productivity, increased turnover, and high training and development costs. In response to these challenges and in recognition of the need to provide career development pathways for employees, organizations should adopt a leadership development program to train a team of candidates to compete for future leadership vacancies. 

The purpose of a leadership program is to identify and develop high potential leadership candidates. These candidates already possess the fundamental technical and soft-skills (e.g., interpersonal skills, communication skills, conflict management skills). In order to identify the candidates, the program should be comprised of a validated selection process and curricula differentiated to meet the organization’s future leadership needs. The program then gives these candidates the added experience and coaching that they need to be effective in leadership roles. Organizations should make it clear that promotion is not guaranteed and only the most qualified candidates are accepted into the program. 

Due to the purpose of the program and small cohort sizes, a leadership development program should use a competitive, multi-step approach to select participants. At FMP, we recently designed a leadership development program for one of our clients using a five step selection process that was driven by a review of selection literature. Specifically, we used the recommended predictive assessments highlighted in the 2010 Merit Systems Protection Board report1and three assessments were chosen (written assessment, structured interview, and role play exercise ). These assessments are considered industry accepted methods and deemed appropriate for assessing the skills needed for participants to be successful in a leadership development program. Ultimately, we ensured that the selection process was fair and transparent to ensure equity and compliance with the Merit System principles.

While employees will welcome pay increases and promotions, research has shown that the most effective way to increase high potential engagement is through opportunities and experiences. A leadership development program provides participants with the guidance and support to gain supervisory skills and knowledge to compete for future openings. A program will provide employees with the hands-on experience they crave and it provides the organization with highly skilled and effective employees—a win-win! 


Merit Systems Protection Board, 2010, A Call to Action: Improving First-Level Supervision of Federal Employees, A Report to the President and to Congress