This article originally appeared on Forbes.
In both good times and bad, it’s crucial for businesses to identify and hold on to their highest potential employees. Research shows that the organizational value of high potentials increases with the complexity of their jobs. But how can your organization identify these employees, and perhaps even more important, keep them growing and contributing? Four components are crucial, according to Alan Schaub, partner at Deloitte Audit & Assurance.
Schaub is both a graduate of, and an internal leader for, Deloitte’s “NextGen” executive leadership development program. Each year, the program enables about 60 high-potential senior execs to reach the most senior firm leadership and client management positions in the world’s largest professional services firm. One of Schaub’s most rewarding responsibilities is to identify and guide these high potential leaders. Here are his recommendations for setting high potentials up for success—and getting the most from them in turn.
Know what to look for. Talent development starts with choosing the right individuals. Schaub specified two different markers for leadership potential: professional capability and personal attributes. He described professional capability as technical strength and experience in particular disciplines, and personal attributes as including skills like executive presence, business acumen, presentation skills, confidence and empathy, as well as the emotional intelligence necessary for candidates to be skillful at interacting with and leading people.
He emphasized that both professional capability and personal attributes are relevant at every career stage. When evaluating on-campus recruits, he looks for prior experience, and is impressed with people who have put themselves through college, or if they didn’t have the burden of covering their own tuition, is interested in how they used their time outside the classroom to grow as a person.
Schaub believes that learning is a lifelong journey, and that once executives have mastered technical skills, they can pay that forward by leading other people. Part of that journey is ongoing reinvention and mastery of new skillsets, even though there can be risk in trying new things. For experienced people, he asks, “What does their track record say about them? What do their evaluations say about their work, their interaction with teams? Have they stretched themselves and taken chances to grow, or are they putting in their time expecting promotion and opportunity based on the length of their service?”
Encourage them to try new experiences. If high potentials are going to deliver for their organizations, they need more than aspiration. They also need the ability to take on the added responsibility that comes with more senior roles, and the willingness to take on ever-more challenging roles. Schaub says, “You have to show them that by taking an alternate path and shaking things up, it’s very much personally and professionally rewarding. I give them examples of the chances that I’ve taken… I find that by telling them the setbacks that I’ve had, the insecurities that I’ve had along my career development, [it’s] easier for them to see themselves taking those chances as well,” and they become more open to real world development opportunities.
“Let’s say we need a senior leader help to help our cross border clients in country X, that they’ve never done that, I’ll often talk to those people and tell them what the challenges are and what the personal and professional benefits are and get them over the hump, if you will. You need to address those insecurities because we’ve all got them. [It’s important to] talk about it in a really positive light so that they can see that with adversity comes development.”
Keep them on track with developmental feedback. Even after high potentials have been identified and are given more challenging assignments, they need the right feedback to ensure that they’re delivering performance that lives up to their potential. Healthy feedback loops can keep them on track, according to Schaub, and it’s crucial for supervisors to be in frequent contact. “Not everyone’s going to come out of the gate and get it right no matter what their potential is. It’s important, first of all, that everybody, the individual and their stakeholders, understand that, and then in those conversations, help the individuals self-assess, ask them to seek feedback from their stakeholders, and adjust as necessary.”
Emphasize the importance of building networks. In addition to ongoing contact with leaders, strong relationships with peers can help keep high potentials’ egos in check, even while providing support. Schaub explains that a significant value of Deloitte’s NextGen Program and others like it is the opportunity to build a robust and trust-based network “I have the person that is my career advisor, but then I have a ton of peers that I’ve met through NextGen. We stay in touch and are friends; they’re from all over the business. We share challenges and we encourage each other. [When peer relationships are] working right, that keeps people on the right track and prevents them from developing an inflated sense of self” that can be a pitfall for many high potential programs.
Schaub was candid about the fact that identifying and developing the right people and keeping them on track is expensive, and many companies may shy away from making that investment. But he went on to say that “It’s far more expensive to replace them and start from scratch.” So give yourself the best shot at building and retaining high potential talent by focusing on these four components of selection and ongoing development.
Onward and upward —