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Don't Squander Your High Potential Talent: Hack It. Innovative strategies for maximizing competence and capacity in your organization

By Karima Mariama-Arthur

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You're a successful executive with an impressive pipeline of premium talent. This "talent" is comprised of an exclusive demographic who is smart, agile and quite frankly, has the potential to embrace next levels of leadership and performance unmatched by the average employee. Its members go by the code name high potentials.

Related: High Performers and High Potential Employees Are Not One In the Same

Bersin by Deloitte, a research-based human capital firm and division of Deloitte Consulting, LLP, defines a high potential employee as someone "having the potential, ability and aspiration for successive leadership within a company." It is important to point out, however, that high potentials are distinguishable from high performers. While the latter may enjoy their work and even perform it well, they may lack the aspiration and or quite possibility, the ability to effectively assume a leadership role.

What's more, high potentials stick out. They're not obscure diamonds in the rough. "High potentials consistently and significantly outperform their peer groups in a variety of 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 with an organization--more quickly and effectively than their peers do, " explain authors Douglas A. Ready, Jay A. Conger and Linda A. Hill, in their collaborative Harvard Business Review article, "Are You a High Potential?"

But what happens when these dynamos go unnoticed and their potential to make greater contributions remains virtually untapped? The failure to engage them can be costly. Without more, decreased morale and high levels of unwelcome attrition tell a valuable story of their own.

If you've got high potentials in your organization, listen up.

Consider the following core strategies for engaging and retaining your premium talent.

Related: Disruption Is More Than the Buzzword It's Become

1. Invest in disruptive development.

High potentials have voracious appetites for learning and advanced achievement. So, focus on this critical aspect of their DNA. While they are definitely self-starters, go-getters and team players, they still need to be challenged professionally. You can raise the bar and pique their interest by offering cutting- edge developmental opportunities. This includes competitive programming aimed at helping HiPos to acquire new and valuable capabilities, challenge the status quo and enjoy increased levels of professional satisfaction. Disruptive education--learning inspired by next practice competencies and innovative technologies--is one of the most compelling ways to achieve this.

2. Diversify responsibilities.

Rich learning environments that actively promote growth, stimulate high potentials. They welcome change as an opportunity to expand their reach and deliver greater value. Therefore, offering contrast in scale, scope and even physical location can be refreshing. Specifically, exposing them to new and more challenging roles on a regular basis should drive this overall strategy. And, where the work flow requires it, encourage travel on client matters. Ultimately it creates a win-win scenario for everyone. HiPos get to expand their professional wheelhouse and you get to create your very own "best of breed" cadre under one roof.

3. Ask what they think.

Feedback is an essential aspect of competent communication, especially in high stakes environments. Do you care what your people think? You should. In this case, why not just ask them? Making assumptions about individual experiences can be disastrous. Veracity can be difficult to gauge, while motives for masking dissatisfaction are endless. Better to promote an open culture that values honest feedback. HiPos will appreciate the opportunity to dialogue and offer valuable insight, as well as share suggestions for improvement that could serve the company as well.

Related: Here Are 4 Ways to Develop a Culture of Respect and Trust

4. Create a collaborative culture.

The ability to work well with others is a leadership imperative. While it's true that "No man is an island," a sentiment captured in John Donne's famous line, it is significantly relevant in the context of business. A culture that encourages teamwork inspires employees to work collaboratively rather than competitively. It also helps everyone to see the big picture, to accomplish on a micro-level--company missions and such--what would otherwise be elusive at the macro-level. Furthermore, collaborative cultures thrive by promoting core values through mutual accountability.

5. Acknowledge efforts and provide perks.

The carrot (as opposed to the stick) is a great way to encourage performance and increase buy-in. Human nature compels one's desire to be acknowledged for hard work and a job well done. Don't take this for granted and assume that HiPos get it and don't need it. They do. They also appreciate perks--those things that my seem small on their face, but make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things. They are affirming and boost morale. They also show your commitment to the overall employee experience, which by all accounts, should be the foundation of any top-notch engagement-retention strategy.

Do you have high potentials in your organization? If so, don't take their talent for granted. Use these strategies to create high performing teams that will take your company to next levels of excellence. After all, they could always take their talent elsewhere, right? Be the reason they don't.

Karima Mariama-Arthur

Founder and CEO of WordSmithRapport

Karima Mariama-Arthur is the founder and CEO of WordSmithRapport, an international consulting firm located in Washington, D.C. that specializes in professional development. She trains, coaches and consults for individuals and organizations on the dynamics of complex communication and high-performance leadership competence. 

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