Talent Development Program For High Potential Employees

In Malaysia, talent development program for the high potential is on the rise right now. In a forum Talent Development and Succession Planning that I attended recently (April 2014), it was clear that many organizations and companies are now revving up talent program for the high potentials. But why? The obvious reason is to make sure their organizations possess the right people  and at the right place to continue what the present leaders do and take it steps ahead. For business organization it is for growth and for the government for national development.


Most organizations (businesses and government) do this program either through retaining the existing talents by providing them developmental “wings” so that they can fly or by attracting external talents to meet the business needs. In general, most organizations use a hybrid of the two methods to ensure steady talent pipelines. Most organizations also noticed the limited information about high potentials program locally. Each organization rely heavily on international external expertise for some ideas. Slowly we generate our own variation of high potentials program to meet our business needs. That’s what I saw recently that the time is ripe for the next trajectory to truly understand what’s best for the talents here and based on what we already know from our past experiences in high potentials programs, what should we do next? We should have a good reference from a comprehensive research of what have been done and implemented, what are their impact, what is the link to the business, how could we do it better and how much did we spend for high potentials program.

High potentials program = Corporate athletes. They need to be identified, nurtured and supported to achieve better performance.

In a 2013 report by a survey done University of North Carolina (UNC) Chapel Hill, around 56% organizations now have a formal process to identify high potential employees, whilst almost 40% have no formal process and the rest discontinued their high potential talent development programs. Let me share a little bit more about the findings in this report. Somehow I could related some of it to the forum. In the talent forum where I attended (April 2014), I could see that there are many program of variations on how organizations implement high potentials development program. In most companies, high potential talent makes about 10% of the employees’ populations. The largest employee population is the average (fort holders) around 80% and the remaining 10% is the low performers. Some companies with deeper pocket have luxurious high potentials program, whilst some have rule of thumbs and empower the managers to engage the talents continuously as part of the overall high potentials programs. Each method has its own merit.


More about UNC report. The report from UNC highlighted that as many as 83% companies identify the high potentials to meet the increased demand for leaders as well as to retain key talents. Additional reason to identify high potentials are to improve overall organizational performance (76%) and to adapt to changing business conditions (57%). Whilst we could see the strong and valid for organization to find out their high potentials, only 2% of the organizations are extremely satisfied with their current process of talents identification, very satisfied (27%) and moderately satisfied (52%). This is an interesting insight because more than 50% think there is a better way to do it. This is what I mean of sharing best practices among the companies could help all of make better talent decision in the future.


Another interesting insight is almost half (47%) of the current talent pool doesn’t meet anticipated future needs of the organization. This is similar to the quote by someone in marketing, “I know that I lose 50% of my budget in marketing, but I don’t know which half.” On the other hand, as many as 84% organization admitted that the demand for high potentials has changed in the past 5 years.

Internal employees should be given opportunity to be identified as high potentials. Some are reluctant leaders for various reasons including access and educational qualification. Strong sense of purpose is key in a thriving organizations for a successful talent development program.

The same report also indicated several key reasons and key drivers of high potentials. They are growth (74%), competitive pressure (61%), dynamic business models (50%), globalization (44%), attrition/turnover (39%) and technological advancement (36%). On the other hand, organizations also conveyed that the primary reasons why the decrease of high potentials programs are lack of attrition/turnover (61%) and lack of business growth (50%). I could infer that whilst organizations agreed that ideally growth, competitive pressures and dynamic business model would inject better needs for them to embark on high potential programs, however, the lack of staffs turnover and slowed growth can’t afford them to go full swing as it involves huge investment.


In conclusion, there are several contradiction answers from the organizations participating in this survey but it certainly provide a good baseline information for further understanding of high potential programs. You could see the constraint of organizations, bearish business conditions, highly demanded talents but not enough resources to bring them in as well as challenges of high potentials to be integrated in the current company culture.


I would like to offer some suggestions that could help business leaders and their HR leaders to make better decision when it comes to high potentials program. These suggestions are my personal view from what I know and I observe.


1. Have a good baseline study through a comprehensive internal data collection on all talent development and leadership initiatives and the impact to the business. They can do this by bringing in good researcher with adequate business experiences that can talk “business sense”. Let the organization and HR do what they do best and work with the researcher by providing data.


2. Have a good chat with the business leaders to get a good sense of where the business is heading and what are the challenges they see coming in 3-5 years. With hyper-competition and long tail economy, things are likely to change faster than expected.


3. Develop a good and integrated identification program to get internal employees offer themselves as part of high potentials. This provide opportunity for current employees to get full understanding of high potentials program and they would understand better if you need to bring in external talents to be part of the team later.


4. For internal employees that become high potentials, you must design and develop a strong program to renovate the way they think and redesign their job roles to fit in the high potentials track. After some time in the previous, they need a strong program to undo certain departmental beliefs and increased expectations.


5. Demand performance in all areas for all high potentials and at the same time show sincerity and authenticity to support their personal development. Try to get independent counselor or coach once a while and let them have a private chat. This helps the high potentials to have a different “talks” and get different views on matters that is important to them and the organizations they serve.

Business leaders and HR leaders should be transparent of their future needs and pain points. These leaders must be honest with each other in fair minded discussion with shared interest of the organizations.

I will be sharing more in my next post on types of programs that are currently being done in some organizations and what are the top competencies needed from high potentials. Stay tune.


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