How To Identify And Retain High-Potential Employees

Every manager can think of at least a handful of employees who stand out from the crowd, distinguishing themselves by their efficiency and value to the team. These stars are usually at the top of the list when it comes time for promotions and bonuses — but how can you be sure that you properly identify high-potential employees (HiPos)?

“You can’t just wait around for high-potential talent to uncover itself,” says Cay Wittenberg, a leadership and management consultant at Success Labs. “You have to identify those agile employees and put them in the field to demonstrate their abilities. The workforce is changing, so you have to be proactive with high-potential employees.”

It’s in the best interest of companies to support and develop the HiPos within their ranks to ensure they remain engaged. The first step in creating an effective HiPo program is to accurately identify your HiPos; unfortunately, this is where organizations tend to have the most trouble.

Understand Potential vs. Performance

That trouble often arises due to a misunderstanding of the term “HiPo.” Employers frequently confuse potential with performance, and these are far from being the same thing. As Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic writes in Forbes, “performance is what you do, and potential is what you could do.”

As individuals rise through the ranks into managerial roles, the skills and capabilities that ensure their success in a given role will change. Just because a developer writes efficient and bug-free code doesn’t mean she’ll be able to effectively oversee others in that same role. Judging an employee’s readiness for a managerial role based solely on their performance in their current position has the unfortunate result of removing employees from positions in which they perform well and placing them in leadership roles for which they are unqualified.

“You’re looking for the difference between an employee who just knows how to do the job versus an invested employee looking to stretch and grow as much as possible within the organization,” Wittenberg says. “These are employees that are not just satisfied with the company but are also engaged — taking action, finding and utilizing opportunities and taking risks that would increase their value to the organization.”

Wittenberg points to four key types of agility that HiPos share and that frequently serve as indicators of future leadership success:

  • People Agility is the ability to mesh and connect across an increasingly diverse workforce.
  • Results Agility is the capacity to perceive intended results in a holistic and high-capacity manner.
  • Learning and Mental Agility is mental flexibility and investment in organizational change.
  • Change Agility is a positive attitude and excitement when faced with change.

These different agilities demonstrate a HiPo candidate’s engagement and investment in their work, and their commitment to doing more than the bare minimum for their organization.

Support Your HiPos

Because high-potential employees ambitiously chase after new challenges, it’s critical to invest in them and provide support to help ensure you retain them. HiPos represent a company’s strongest leadership pipeline. An investment in their success is an investment in your company’s future.

“You have to give those HiPo employees a challenge and a chance to prove themselves,” Wittenberg says. “For example, try assigning them to cross-functional teams focusing on tactical or organizational issues. Find what the company values and put together a task force to have employees keep other employees accountable to it through innovative programs.”

Most of all, Wittenberg says, maintain communication. HiPo employees want to move forward in their careers. Keep in touch to offer feedback and give them opportunities for leadership.

Offer HiPos a Clear Career Path

Once you’ve identified your HiPo employees, it’s critical to keep them invested and engaged. They need to know that they have opportunities with you; without that they’re not likely to stick around.

“Young talent is looking for career paths, for some clear direction on how they can keep adding value to a company, rather than just coming in and punching the clock each day,” Wittenberg says. “With so many opportunities in 2019, employees are not waiting around — just like senior leaders shouldn’t be waiting around for HiPo candidates to come to them. These employees are looking to get that confirmation and validation that people want to invest in them.”

Wittenberg suggests active succession planning. When you have HiPo candidates, you want to give them the chance to make a difference at your organization. “You don’t want to just provide opportunities that are not really adding impact anywhere,” she says. “You want to provide opportunities that are going to keep adding value to the organization.” This gives your HiPos purpose and keeps your best players engaged — which ultimately moves your company forward.

Invest in the Next Generation of Leaders

Identifying and supporting HiPos has become even more critical with the increasing number of millennials in the workforce. Many of the qualities that distinguish HiPos can also be applied to millennials: They’re eager to take on greater responsibility, and they have a strong desire to work in an environment where they feel supported and encouraged.

“Younger generations want to be invested in meaningful work — they tend to look for experiences over monetary value,” Wittenberg notes.

Organizations can mine their younger talent for HiPo candidates that offer not only longevity, but also investment. If you can offer millennial — and younger — employees purposeful work and a chance to make a difference, then you’ve already taken a huge step towards retaining HiPo talent and investing in your company’s future.

HiPos represent the future of any company, and the ways in which employers support them will determine how bright that future can be. By identifying and cultivating employees with exceptional aspiration, uncommon ability and superior engagement, employers can ensure that the next generation of leaders is well equipped to boost performance, foster innovation and drive sustainable growth.

This article was originally published in 2017 and was updated in August 2019.


LinkedIn Aiming to Power Social Sharing + Lead Gen with Elevate Offering

For many, LinkedIn has long been the underdog in the social media space. The kid who gets picked last for sports. The red-headed step-child. When I hear that LinkedIn is an individual’s least favorite social network, I know that they view the world of business in general and lead generation in particular very differently than I do. That’s because for me, and for our B2B clients, LinkedIn is where our customers and prospects are. Daily. Don’t take my word for it, though. A 2014 survey from IDC showed that 75 percent of B2B buyers used social media to make purchasing decisions, and when you factor in C-level and/or VP execs, that number jumped to 84 percent. Think those numbers have grown any in the past couple of years? I am certain of it.

Forget social media in general, and let’s focus in on LinkedIn. That same IDC survey showed that more than half of B2B buyers and C-level/VPs (56 percent and 64 percent respectively) specifically reported using LinkedIn to support purchasing decisions. Tell me again why you and your sales team aren’t using LinkedIn?

And that’s why content curation and sharing in general, and perhaps the new LinkedIn Elevate functionality, quietly announced in April and currently available by invitation only with an expected rollout in Q3 should be on your radar screen.

Let’s Back Up—LinkedIn by the Numbers

LinkedIn, the earliest social network to be profitable, boasts over 433 million users, 120 million in the U.S. and the remaining 70% outside the U.S. The site reportedly gains users at the rate of 2 per second and the amount of data it has on that user base is staggering to contemplate—it’s no wonder Microsoft swooped in for an acquisition.

Microsoft’s play in the cloud space, with a huge focus on collaboration, makes LinkedIn a perfect fit for the technology giant. Adding LinkedIn and its massive, devoted user base to its family of products that include Office 365, Skype, and OneDrive makes good sense. Getting access to the treasure trove of data on that LinkedIn user base makes even better sense. And connecting a gigantic, business-focused user base and giving them more tools to communicate with one another—not unlike what Facebook is doing—is smart. Not to mention the fact that that move gives Microsoft and LinkedIn access to even more data on that user base. It’s a data driven marketer’s wet dream.

LinkedIn and Lead Gen

Understanding that its user base is focused on lead gen has been driving much of the company’s acquisition strategy. Last summer saw the 175 million dollar acquisition of B2B marketing platform Bizo, and then early 2015’s launch of LinkedIn’s Lead Accelerator. This solution is designed to target prospects with specific ads, depending on which parts of a website they visit. The system allows brands to place a pixel on their site, using cookies to identify LinkedIn users. Though the data is held anonymously, advertisers are able to serve targeted ads to LinkedIn prospects based on which pages they view.

LinkedIn has partnered with brands, like the recent Marketo mash-up, intended to enable marketers to more effectively follow up on leads. With the integration of LinkedIn Lead Accelerator with Marketo’s Engagement Marketing Platform, customers of both companies can engage with prospects in a more meaningful, and definitely more coordinated way.

LinkedIn has also built a reputation as a place to not only share, but publish content to, which I wrote about in this post: LinkedIn Publishing, 4 Reasons You Should Want to Do It Now—representing a serious leap into content and social sharing. We work with clients on a regular basis helping to ideate and develop content intended specifically for LinkedIn, and for many it’s a big part of not only their thought-leadership and overall brand value, but also a source of ongoing top of funnel lead generation.

Why Social Sharing? For Starters, Brand Awareness, Lead Gen + Recruiting

Social sharing is an integral part of so many facets of business operations. For starters, it has a huge impact on brand awareness and developing a reputation for thought leadership, plays a big role in corporate lead generation, and an undeniable impact on recruiting operations.

I could share research conducted by LinkedIn as it relates to social sharing by employees, but since my team and I live this daily, I’ll share our experiences. By and large, it doesn’t happen. Social sharing by internal teams that is. Even, surprisingly, when those teams are focused on business development—or marketing.

Isn’t that amazing? Well, not really. There are a variety of reasons that this is the case. People don’t know how to share. They don’t know what to share. They don’t know how to make time for sharing. They don’t even know there is a corporate blog and/or a corporate LinkedIn page, perhaps because they’ve never been told about those assets or encouraged to use them. It could be that their LinkedIn profiles suck (harsh, but true), and in all too many cases, they’ve not visited LinkedIn since their last job search.

Getting employees to share business-related content on their personal social media profiles, even a business social media network, and one that could help lead your sales/marketing teams to more business opportunities is extremely difficult. LinkedIn research reports that only two percent of employees share company content on LinkedIn, and it’s a good bet that most of that two percent comes from your marketing teams.

Yet more content sharing, more regularly, by more people leads to greater visibility. For your company and for the individuals sharing that content. Greater visibility leads to so many things—more brand awareness, more new business opportunities and increased lead generation, more effective talent acquisition, just to name a few. Why then is it so difficult?

Data backs up the assertion that social selling works, and that it’s a key component of top of funnel strategies for your top sales performers. Below is a graph from the Corporate Executive Board illustrating that the single most powerful behavior separating top sales performers from core performers is the use of social media as a key channel for engaging customers and generating leads.

And That’s Why LinkedIn is Developing Elevate

Since curating and sharing content should be a part of driving overall brand awareness, both for an individual and for the company they work for, and since they know it’s largely not happening, this presents an opportunity for LinkedIn.

Using combined algorithmic recommendations from Pulse and Newsie, LinkedIn Elevate is a mobile (iOS and Android) and desktop app designed to help employees easily find, curate, share, and even schedule content to be shared on LinkedIn and Twitter. What LinkedIn is hoping will make Elevate even more powerful is the insights provided to its users to help them measure how people engage with their content. Note that this is a paid platform, so you’ll only be using Elevate if your company ponies up the dough for you to do that.

Why You Need to Overcome the Hurdles to Internal Content Curation/Sharing

Empowering your employees to share content with the aim of becoming a socially engaged company is a worthwhile objective. And it absolutely does have an impact on the bottom line in a business landscape that is noisy, distracting, and moving at the speed of light. The companies who succeed are the ones who understand that great marketing trumps great products, and sales teams can do more when you empower them in every way possible—including the social media space.

Whether you work with a team like ours, who ideates, writes, curates, and distributes content to share on social networks to various teams within an organization, or you buy LinkedIn Elevate and integrate that into your business operations, doing a better job of curating and sharing content on the networks where your customers and prospects are is good business.

The data on this front—which comes from LinkedIn—is pretty powerful:

  • When a LinkedIn member shares six pieces of content, on average they receive six profile views and make two new personal connections (another team member benefit: personal brand enhancement)
  • Also as a result of that sharing, the company they work for receives six job views,three Company Page views, and one Company page follower.
  • Those 2 percent of content sharers in YOUR organization (who likely have larger networks than the company itself)—they are responsible for approximately 20 percent of the overall engagement—likes, shares, comments, etc., that the content shared on behalf of your organization receives.

There’s much to gain from helping your employees be more engaged social content sharers and advocates for whatever it is your company does. People trust people, not brands. And when trusted connections regularly curate and share great content, it helps their personal brands, it helps the company brand, it helps customers and prospects educate themselves, it helps drive brand awareness, sales, trial, adoption—so many things.

Whether you explore and ultimately use LinkedIn’s Elevate product, or learn to integrate content curation and social sharing into your business operations on your own or working with a vendor partner like our team at V3B, it can be tremendously beneficial to your business. No matter what you sell. And if we can help you with that, you know where to find me.

As I mentioned earlier, LinkedIn’s Elevate is available by invitation only. You can sign up and get more information here.

What goes on in your organization with regard to content curation, development and, of course, social sharing? Do you see the same reluctance to do that that we see, or is your team all in? If not, what hurdles to adoption do you see within your organization and how do you deal with those? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

A version of this post was published on V3+Broadsuite.

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