High potential careers: The characteristics to develop

There are three characteristics of high potential candidates that organisations should target for development, Mark Hodgson says

Employers and recruiters in the UK are experiencing a shift to a candidate-led market, where the conventional ‘job for life’ in one organisation has been replaced by a ‘career for me’ mentality. The best employees are prepared to change roles multiple times to build their value to employers and to own the trajectory of their career. This trend has significant implications for businesses that wish to unlock potential in their staff and retain them over the long-term. Recent Right Management research revealed that only 14 per cent of senior executives and HR managers in the UK were confident that their organisation had sufficient leadership pipelines. So how can organisations adapt their approach to encourage, develop and retain their best talent?   

High potential programmes, which assist businesses to identify and support their most promising employees, can be useful. While these schemes have traditionally been deployed as a reward for high performance, organisations are increasingly looking to ensure their business strategy includes the ongoing development of their high potential (HiPo) employees. By providing opportunities that enable individuals to feel developed, stretched and in charge of their own careers, businesses create a sustainable leadership pipeline and drive performance that can help them meet their organisational goals.

Organisations will have different priorities and measures of success and so will have to craft distinct relationships with their HiPo employees. It is important to establish the leadership qualities that are most valuable to the overall strategy of the business and map these against the skillsets and attributes of the current talent pool. This will help management to identify the individuals that could thrive and provide real business value as they progress towards leadership positions.

At Right Management, we’ve identified three characteristics of high potential candidates that organisations should target for development:

Career drive and aspiration

Some employees might feel perfectly happy in their current role, or may shy away from the idea of managing others. Alternatively, they may individually not feel confident enough to be vocal about their ambitions, compared with other employees. It’s important to identify what motivates people in their careers and whether or not high performing individuals have the ambition to take on more responsibility and challenges. Personal development catch-ups are crucial in determining whether or not individuals are motivated to secure these roles, and what career experiences are most motivating and beneficial to their development. Right Management recently conducted a series of events which illustrated the value of adopting a career-development ethos across the business, where employees are recognised as a ‘total value asset’ and career aspirations are encouraged to the mutual individual and organisational benefit. 


High agility organisations generally outperform industry peers on all measures including long term financial performance, and agile organisations require agile leaders. There are three types of agility which are particularly important to identify and encourage in HiPos: Strategic Agility, which refers to flexibility, adaptability, and being comfortable with ambiguity; Operational Agility, which refers to the ability to navigate the complexities of the organisational culture; and Interpersonal Agility, which is self-awareness and empathy for others. Closely monitoring for these attributes and gaining feedback from close colleagues is the best way to determine whether or not an employee would excel through further development, and if they possess the potential for agile leadership.

Respected by internal stakeholders

In order to excel through a high potential programme, an employee must be able to earn and retain the respect of colleagues at all levels. It is especially necessary for senior stakeholders to be confident in the individual’s ability to take on more responsibility. Motivated HiPos should be encouraged in developing a clear track record of their accomplishments and performance which key decision makers can refer to when considering an employee for further opportunities.

By understanding the qualities that characterise HiPo employees, and developing a business strategy that support them by offering valuable career experiences, agility and a track record of success, employers are able create a mutually beneficial system which encourages and motivates their best talent, driving business performance and ultimately ensures a strong return on investment.


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