Identify and Develop Your High Potential Employees

The most successful companies aren’t focusing only on what is happening today. They are always looking to the future and developing strategies to be on top. The growing skills shortage is threatening long-term economic success forcing organizations to identify and develop the untapped talent internal to their business.

What is a High Potential Employee?

High potential employees, or HIPOs, are described as having the potential, ability, and aspiration to hold successive leadership positions in an organization. To put it simply, these employees are your future leaders. They excel in their current roles and possess the characteristics necessary to fill a leadership position. They also show that they can overcome obstacles and have a desire to grow their career.

Others HIPO characteristics include:

  • Work autonomously. HIPOs need very little direction to be productive. They can efficiently prioritize their tasks and do their job effectively without instructions from their manager. 
  • Possess a team player attitude. HIPOs are always willing to be a part of the team. They are usually well-liked among their colleagues and can often be seen helping others.
  • Perform well under pressure. HIPOs thrive in high pressure situations. They do not shy away from a challenge and excel when faced with difficult tasks. 
  • Contribute to the Company Culture. It is likely that you will see your HIPOs involved in a variety of projects and activities around the workplace. They strive to be an integral part of your company’s culture and influence it in a positive way. 

Studies have found that HIPOs are 50% more valuable to an organization than other employees and exhibit 21% higher productivity levels. They are also known to contribute 91% more effort in achieving business goals. These stats speak directly to the importance of understanding what a high potential employee is and how to identify them.

Identify Your High Potential Employees

With the right strategies in place, identifying your high potential employees becomes part of your business process. When developing your identification process, be sure to keep the following information top of mind:

High Potential vs High Performance


Many organizations have made the mistake of only focusing on performance when identifying their high potential employees. While high performers are just as valuable to your organization as HIPOS, there are significant differences between these employees. In fact, studies suggest that only 30% of high performers are actually high potential employees. This is because 90% of high performers have difficulty adjusting to the higher levels of responsibility required to lead.

The differences between HIPOS and High Performers include:

  •  HIPOs are proactive, while high performers are reactive.
  •  HIPOs are leaders, while high performers prefer to follow.
  • HIPOs have an ambition to know the business, while high performers focus on perfecting the job.

Keep these differences in mind when creating the criteria for your organization to identify high potential employees.  

Defining High Potential Criteria

At times, managers and HR professionals overestimate their ability to identify HIPOS. That is why is important for you to define the clear criteria needed to consider an employee as high potential. These criteria should include the behaviors, achievements, and KPIS that you consider high potential. You should also consider the criteria needed to be a successful leader in your organization.

High potential criteria can include:

  • Knowledge: Are they considered experts in their field?
  • Reputation: Do they have legitimacy in the eyes of others?
  • Ambition: Do they have a strong career mindset?
  • Partnering: Do they excel in working with others?
  • Certainty: Can they make strategic decisions?

These criteria should be communicated to your managers so that they have a clear understanding of how to successfully identify HIPOs.

Develop You High Potential Employees

Your HIPOs are aware that they are excelling in their position and in your organization. It is your responsibility to identify their strengths and weaknesses and create a development plan that matches their individual potential. If you do not take the time to develop them, HIPOs will wonder if anyone has noticed their potential. 

Simply providing a career development program for HIPOs, isn’t enough. You must provide the guidance and support to help them to meet their potential. The following best practices should be considered when developing your high potential employees:

  • Create an Individual Career Development Plan. Every high potential is different, and their development plan should reflect that. Consider the criteria that you used to select your HIPOs and use those criteria to focus on filling the skills gaps. This helps you determine where they have room to grow and create a career development plan that will foster that growth.
  • Implement a Mentoring Program. Mentoring is an effective way to develop your high potential employees. With the right mentor, your HIPOs will develop the skills and competencies needed to lead at your organization. Implementing a mentoring program can also be valuable in retaining your HIPOs that thrive when interacting with your leadership team.
  • Provide Active Development Opportunities. It’s not enough to teach a HIPO how to be a leader, you must let them experience it. Give them the opportunity to take the lead during a special project or when a leader is away from the office. You can also allow them to shadow their mentor as they lead. 


By effectively developing your high potential employees, you will reaffirm their potential and motivate them to continue to excel.

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