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How to Tackle High Potential Employees


High-potential employees, as opposed to high-performing employees, or highly-knowledgeable employees, are exceptionally important for talent management. While there is nothing that prevents a high potential employee from being a high performer or highly knowledgeable, quite often these three are not the same. A high performer or highly knowledgeable employee may not be ready for promotion due lack of competence required at the next level up. However, high-potential employees are those who are ready to be promoted, and therefore they need to be properly managed, developed and retained.

How to Tackle High Potential Employees

Usually, high-potential employees may have one or more of the following traits:
  • Does acceptable work, but already meets competency demands of the next level
  • Does acceptable work where he is, but can also function well at a level two or three steps higher
  • Has the potential to lead the company at some time in the future - based on competence, affiliations and background.
What to do and not to do with high-potential employees who are ready for advancement

What to do and not to do with high-potential employees basically depends upon what motivates or demotivates them. While the list of such factors that influence high-potential employees can be very big and beyond the scope of this article, a few generalizations can be made about such factors.

Motivating high-potential employees

Here are a few tips to motivate high-potential employees:
  • Set realistic goals
  • Show quick appreciation for good performance
  • Share enthusiasm for good ideas
  • Understand what they don't want, because the likes and dislikes of people vary
  • Make high-potential employees engaged in challenging work
What to avoid when dealing with high-potential employees

While the following are true for almost every employee, care needs to be taken that the following don't occur when dealing with people who are ready for promotion and will take on higher responsibilities in the future:
  • Don't set unrealistic targets and workloads
  • Don't micromanage
  • Don't hold back on recognition
  • Don't be unfair in criticizing
  • Don't encourage people to ask always for permissions from higher-ups - it actually helps them to shed responsibility
It also needs to be kept in mind that individuals can differ dramatically in their performance levels and skills. Managers need to find ways to be fair to unequally talented people or be ready to lose them. Research has found that high-performers and high-potential people can be up to 20 times more productive than their average counterparts occupying the same levels or posts in an organization. More productive people have to be tackled separately and nursed for retention.

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