Wordpress Themes

How to Make Sure Your High Potential Employees Are Engaged


Any business owner wants engaged employees—employees who are happy with the work they do and who feel they are making a difference perform at a higher level than those that just see work as part of the daily grind. While it’s important that all employees are engaged, your main focus should be on that small group of high-potential employees (HPEs).

What is a high potential employee?

Harvard Business Review defined a high potential employee as follows:

“High potentials consistently and significantly outperform their peer groups in a variety of settings and circumstances. While achieving these superior levels of performance, they exhibit behaviors that reflect their companies’ culture and values in an exemplary manner. Moreover, they show a strong capacity to grow and succeed throughout their careers within an organization—more quickly and more effectively than their peer groups do.”

Note that these are people who have succeed at a higher rate than their peers. This means that you can have a high-potential VP and a high-potential junior analyst who has only been out of school for three months.

Sometimes, people think of the term “high-potential” in the terms that their school teachers used it. “John sure has a lot of potential!” they said, but what they meant was, “John should really be doing better than he is”. A high potential person in the office is succeeding. Granted, they still need support, but you can see the success.

How are high potential employees different?

Well, the obvious answer to that is that they are better and faster than their peers, but they also have different goals. Someone who masters a job in six months is going to become bored with that job in a year, as compared to someone who still needs significant support six months into the job.

High potential employees will need more of a challenge if you want them to stay engaged. Here’s how to keep your high potential employees engaged and benefiting your business.

Provide a challenge

Remember, high potential is different than just a high-performer. Some high performers want to stay at the top of their current game, and are happy to stay where they are. That doesn’t make them bad employees, nor does it suggest they aren’t engaged. But, a high potential person wants to move onward and upward. They need challenges.

These challenges can, and often do, come in the form of promotions, but that’s not the only kind of challenge a high potential person can take on. You can offer special projects, difficult clients (internal or external), or just ask them to take on a bit more.

You have to be careful with challenges. Sometimes bosses see high potential employees as the people who can solve all their problems—and as such, they don’t want this person to be promoted and move on. That is a critical mistake.

While your HPE can do many of the things the rest of your staff finds difficult, remember that the challenge needs to have a purpose. If you keep giving your HPE all the tough clients, watch her succeed with them, and then reward her with a new batch of rotten clients, she’ll leave.

Change up the challenge. If you HPE tackles the difficult clients successfully, ask her to develop a training protocol for her co-workers so they can learn to accomplish the things she needed.

Make sure to promote

Promotions don’t have to come all the time, but they do need to come. An HPE needs to know she’s moving up in the world, or she’ll move out.

Sometimes small businesses worry that there aren’t any places for an HPE to go. After all, if you’ve only got 10 people, there aren’t exactly layers of middle management for her to work her way through. Remember, though, that all promotions don’t have to be into new positions. You can focus on Promotions in Place, or Growth Promotions.

What are these promotions? Well, this is the promotion from Junior Analyst, to Analyst, to Senior Analyst. The underlying work—analysis—hasn’t changed, but how the employee approaches it, the level of responsibility and the pay all increase as the title increases.

Consider a rotational assignment

If your organization can allow for it, a rotational program can keep an HPE engaged. In such a program, employees are given assignments for 12-24 months and then are moved to the next assignment—sometimes completely different assignments.

You may start the person in marketing, and after 18 months move her to supply chain. It will be a huge challenge for her, but will keep her engaged. And best of all, the business will benefit from her strengths and the knowledge she gains as she learns the whole organization.

Don’t forget the low-level HPEs

We often see HPEs as the super shiny new MBA we just hired. Those people can be HPEs, but so can that grocery store cashier you just hired.

If you just hired Jane to run a cash register and you notice that she’s learning quickly and has better rapport with the customers than most cashiers, don’t lose her. You may think cashiers are a dime a dozen, but cashiers like Jane are not. Talk to her. Say, “Jane, I noticed how quickly you learned your job. We’d be interested in helping you to achieve your goals in our store. Can we talk about your plans?”.

She may say that her plans are to work this summer and then go to college and become an accountant. Since you’ve identified her as a high potential employee and every business needs accountants, make sure that you help her achieve her goals. Offer her a chance to work with the accounting office. Let her help with the drawer auditing at the end of the day. Challenge her.

It will benefit your business and her career. When she’s done with school, she just might stay with your grocery store, and you’ll benefit from her talent for years to come. If you just treat her like a cashier, she’ll do a good job for a summer and then go on her way.

Keeping your HPEs engaged and helping your business is a key responsibility of any HR department or management team. Keep them engaged and they’ll stay with you. Let them get bored or feel unappreciated, and your competitor will benefit.

About the author:

Suzanne_Lucas_Evil HR Lady_author_mYngle_blogSuzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers. Now she writes about how to managers can manage their employees and employees can manage their managers, along with tips for making your career great. You can reach her at [email protected] or follow her blog, Evil HR Lady.

Explore posts in the same categories: HR topics and support