A familiar challenge for any expanding enterprise is how to find and manage the highest potential employees who can over time mature into leadership positions. While there are always more applicants that positions available in senior management, the task of any leadership team is to accurately and with insight find those employees with the greatest potential of success (Ruggiero, 2008). From the very informal succession planning techniques small businesses use that are tantamount of planning sessions, to the much more rigorous and thorough high potential employee development programs, there is a very wide variation in approach and results (Bloch, 1996). The intent of this analysis is to provide a small, rapidly growing company with insights into how best to manage the dilemma of having 50% of its workforce looking to advance their careers with a limited number of positions available while also giving the majority of employees greater job and career enrichment and enhancement. Critical to both of these strategies is the need for creating development and learning plans for employees, in addition to career paths or progressions for them as well. The intent of this analysis is to provide recommendations for each group of employees, guiding the company to the best decisions possible to retain and grow their talented workforce.

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Creating a High Potential Employee Development Program

While there are many approaches to creating and sustaining a high potential employee development program, the most effective work to align the strategic plans and objectives of the firm from a long-term perspective to staffing requirements and plans (Ruggiero, 2008). By using strategic plans and their objectives as the foundation for planning succession, the company will have a much greater level of consistency and lack of conflict in the future. Concentrating on recruiting that can contribute quickly and thoroughly to those corporate objectives is critical.

An initial approach to isolating which employees are best suited for the high potential leadership development program needs to include 360-degree feedback from their immediate managers, peers, customers they may have interacted with, suppliers and stakeholders (Bloch, 1996). Based on a 360-degree analysis and assessment through interviews with senior management, high potential employees are provided mentors and also managed into more challenging projects to grow their leadership and decision-making ability (Bloch, 1996). While management will during each phase of this process have a good understanding of those employees who will have the greatest potential for success, it is very important to present the program as egalitarian and equal, fair and open to anyone interested (Ruggiero, 2008). There are two critically important reasons for this. First, it is excellent for morale to have a balanced series of opportunities provided for advancement, and second it is critical to keep this to all new and current employees as well (Ruggiero, 2008).

Once the series of candidates have been chosen by evaluating their propensity to contribute to the strategic direction of the company and their innate communication, leadership and insight from interviews, the mentoring process needs to begin. A strategic-level model as defined by Groves (2007) provides a roadmap for the continual development of high potential employees. What is particularly useful about the model is recursive nature of mentoring programs and continual emphasis on challenging high potential prospects to learn through continually more complex assignments. This model is also very valuable from the standpoint of managing the onboarding process of high potential employees as well, as groups of employees can move through this process together.

There is also the potential of using the organizational culture to scaffold up or support those members of the organization who are not suited for high potential employee development. Job enrichment and to provide employees with greater autonomy, mastery and purpose over their work can also be created. The three factors most critical to long-term motivation, autonomy, mastery and purpose can be combined using this model to also give employees not in the high potential program just as much of an opportunity at career, educational and specific job skills development.


Bloch, Susan. (1996). Coaching tomorrow’s top managers. , 8(5), 30-32.

Kevin S. Groves. (2007). Integrating leadership development and succession planning best practices. The Journal of Management Development, 26(3), 239-260.

Ruggiero, J. (2008). Identifying and Developing High Potential Leadership Talent. Journal of Personal Finance, 7(2), 13-33.