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Nurturing your high-potentials: What can you do to help them grow?

Vinesh Naidu, Talent Management Lead, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Malaysia, affirms the three foundational steps to promoting growth in high-potential employees. 

Tomorrow, someone in your organisation could resign, get promoted, or retire. So today, you need to be prepared with a plan to fill that gap. Your organisation will be better placed for success if you have a pool of high-potentials already waiting in the wings.

Easier said than done though as you will need a clear idea of what you’re looking for in a high-potential employee. What current and future skills/capabilities are required? Who is responsible for developing the high-potential?

Too few stakeholders, and you risk disengagement. Too many, and you risk the high-potential being pulled in too many directions. And these just scratch the surface of the dilemma. Talent management is easy, said no one ever.

From our experience, the following steps are foundational to promoting growth in high-potential employees:

(1) Spotting potential - identifying the right people

When we identify our high potentials, we consider their performance (past), determine aspirations for growth (present) and assess their learning agility (future). Together, these dimensions provide a clear picture of who among our talent has the highest potential to grow into leadership roles.

(2) Maximise their learning and development

Research shows that many high-potentials leave when they feel their development has plateaued. Discontentment over compensation is less of a factor.

We adopt a process called '2-Sides to a Story'. Pairing one high-potential with a business leader and a talent facilitator, the process enables alignment of expectations and understanding which in turn provides the necessary clarity to focus development interventions.

Don’t invest and high-potentials stay and feel like they’re not realising their full potential. Invest and they might leave tomorrow.

Via this process, some of our high-potentials may tell us that this accelerated track is not for them. We make it clear that it is absolutely fine as the ultimate aim is to ensure a fit on both sides. Following this conversation, the talent then works with their business leader to develop a focused development plan.

(3) Venturing into the uncomfortable zone

Growth is uncomfortable but necessary. At professional services firms, you are mainly expected to have deep expertise in your subject matter to help clients. That isn’t sufficient to shape a leader, who will eventually have to bring out the best in their teammates. Holistic development must be included in the mix, as it provides the breadth and scale needed to gain deep leadership insights.

We encourage our high-potentials to constantly try new things, to acquire new skills and experiences.

These may include developing thought leadership, speaking at external events, developing a new business offering, and secondment to firms across the PwC network.

Internally, we also push them to find opportunities to work on projects with people outside their departments, to mentor younger high potentials, and to shadow senior leaders in order to better understand what keeps them up at night.

Invest or not to invest?

High-potential talent management is often a catch-22 situation. Don’t invest and they stay and feel like they’re not realising their full potential. Invest and they might leave tomorrow.

The key might be to reframe the way we think about utilising potential.

In today’s gig economy, don’t focus on locking your high potential in for a 30-year career. Instead, push them to perform today, understand their ability to learn, unlearn and relearn so that it helps your organisation tomorrow, and finally, align their aspirations with your organisational roadmap.

With this approach, it becomes a win-win.

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