High Potential Employees: How to Attract & Develop the Best

High potential employees are the most actively recruited – for obvious reasons. Every company on the planet – especially in today’s tight labor market – wants intelligent, talented, and hard-working people.

For this reason, high potential employees can also be difficult to retain. Why? They can always take their talents and skills elsewhere if they aren’t satisfied.

By identifying the characteristics of these top performers and why they leave, managers can learn how to develop them in a way that keeps them engaged. So, if you want to know more about attracting, engaging, and retaining high potential employees, keep reading!

High Potential Employees

How To Identify High Potential Employees

According to the Harvard Business Review, identifying high potential employees requires understanding an employee’s ability to do their job and other jobs well, potential to manage others, and independent drive. For these employees, there will be a high level of ability in both executing their job responsibilities and supervising others.

High potential employees usually have long-term career goals towards which they are actively working. These high achievers also tend to stand out in some way and are viewed as having a certain “X factor”. Perhaps they do one thing extraordinarily well, or everything reasonably well. When scouting high potential employees, it is helpful to use these characteristics to recognize which of your employees fall into this category and the strategies you can use to retain them.

Retaining High Potential Employees

High potential employees bring a lot to a team, office, or business. Leaders should ensure that once they hire these key players, they also seek to actively retain them. One time-tested strategy for retaining high potential employees is to utilize them to their max potential and to recognize them for it. This could be as simple as giving them opportunities to grow, learn, and advance within the company. Top talent is highly motivated by the feeling that they are rapidly learning new things and accomplishing challenging goals.

Why High Potential Employees Leave

Of course, even when management actively works to retain top employees, they sometimes leave. Why is this? We’ve already talked about how the opportunity to learn, grow, and develop can help with retention. Naturally, the absence of these opportunities can cause high potential employees to leave.

In addition, many sources and studies have outlined how office politics is corrosive for premium talent. Micro-management by supervisors who feel threatened by the high potential employees they are managing is a common theme. Finally, top employees sometimes leave because more money and better opportunities are made available to them by recruiters. Leaders should look at their comp plan and make sure their top talent gets paid like it.

How To Engage High Performing Employees

With that being said, it is important for management to understand how to engage high potential employees in a way that makes them feel seen, heard, and valued. One of the primary ways managers can learn how to engage these employees is via training in proper supervision and leadership. Through such training, managers learn how to engage high potential employees in a transparent, trusting, and non-threatening way. Mentoring these employees with an eye towards inspiring them to pursue growth in your business or workplace is another logical engagement strategy.

How To Develop High Potential Employees

Once management understands how to properly engage high potential employees, the next step is to help them develop and expand their skill sets. Generally speaking, it becomes very important to offer top employees the ability to take on increasingly greater responsibilities. Creating opportunities for growth and development is one of the easiest ways to develop a high potential employee because it gives those employees experience in rewarding new roles and responsibilities. Another key strategy is to create an individual development plan.

Individual Development Plan For High Potential Employees

Creating an individual development plan for high potential employees is another way to establish a strategy and long term plan for coaching top talent. The creation of an individual development plan should be a partnership between management and the employee. It is important to not only focus on the goals of the company but also the goals of the individual.

Coaching top employees and actively managing their career goals and development plan is another way to retain them. If this is done, business leaders can worry less about those employees pursuing their goals somewhere else.


High potential employees have the runway to become the next senior leaders at a company. By incorporating these various ideas and strategies, business leaders and managers are able to not only identify these employees, they can also ensure they stay committed to the company for the long term.

Does your company need help attracting top talent? Get in touch today to see how we can help.


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Filed Under: consulting recruiting, Consulting skills, Leadership & Management