Want to Engage High-Potential Employees? Don’t Take Them for Granted

Employees aren’t human capital assets or resources — they are unique and talented individuals entitled to respect and the pursuit of purpose in their lives.

They congregate in organizations to perform meaningful work in a community with others of like mind to achieve their own goals and to make a difference in the world or in other peoples’ lives. And, they like to feel good about and enjoy the time they spend working in those organizations.

As enlightened leaders, we owe this to all our employees, as well as creating a work environment that nurtures their personal and professional development while they attend to achieving the goals of the organization.

A positive influence? Present and attentive leaders

This isn’t a passive exercise though — if we truly want to bring out the best in the people working with us and for us, we must pay attention to them, their efforts, and the results of their labor.

Enjoyment and engagement in work also depend on how much meaning employees can attribute to their efforts. Leaders who want to help their workers become more engaged and productive should impart some meaning in the work — not just through a mission or vision statement — but by allowing employees to feel a sense of completion and ensuring that a job well done is always acknowledged.

Leaders who are present and attentive are a huge positive influence on employee satisfaction and productivity.

While every employee deserves this attentiveness from their leaders, the best and brightest in our workforce often demand it.

High-potential and skilled knowledge workers want to contribute based on their strengths; be given autonomy over how they do their work, and be convinced rather than controlled. This attitude may not fit well with command-and-control organizational hierarchies, but it’s an essential mind-shift for leaders who are serious about attracting and retaining the best talent.

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6 tips to better engage high-potentials

Unfortunately, many employees — and especially the rising stars — have become increasingly disengaged in their work and are actively seeking new employment opportunities, according to a study by the Corporate Leadership Council (CLC).

The study found that 25 percent of employer-identified, high-potential employees plan to leave their current companies within the year. However, the CLC identified six tips leaders can use to identify, re-engage, and more effectively manage high-potential employees:

  1. Stimulate. Emerging leaders need stimulating work, recognition, and the chance to grow. If not, they can quickly become disengaged.
  2. Test. Explicitly test candidates for ability, engagement, and aspiration to make sure they’re able to handle the tougher roles as their careers progress.
  3. Manage. Having line managers oversee high-potential employees only limits their access to opportunities and encourages hoarding of talent. Instead, manage these high-potential employees at the corporate level.
  4. Challenge. High-potential employees need to be in positions where new capabilities can — or must — be acquired.
  5. Recognize. High-potential employees will be more engaged if they are recognized frequently, so offer them differentiated compensation and recognition.
  6. Engage. Incorporate high-potential employees into strategic planning. Share future strategies with them and emphasize their role in making them come to fruition.

Although the CLC study focused on high-potential employees, their recommendations are sage advice when dealing with any employee. The bottom line is, don’t take your employees for granted.

While engagement may be hard to sustain, it’s infinitely easier when you nurture, recognize, stretch, and develop your team.

This was originally published on the OC Tanner blog.

Named as one of the Ten Best and Brightest Women in the incentive industry and to the Employee Engagement Power 100 list, a Change Maker, Top Idea Maven, and President’s Award winner, Michelle is a highly accomplished international speaker, author, and strategist on performance improvement. A respected authority on leadership, workplace culture, talent and employee engagement, she’s a trusted advisor to many of the world’s most successful organizations and the governments of the United Kingdom and the United States.

Michelle speaks and writes about what she knows first-hand – as a former executive of a Fortune 100 global conglomerate, and as a researcher and strategist. She passionately shares new insights and tools for leaders to confidently, effectively and strategically lead their organizations to success.

Michelle is the Past President of the FORUM for People Performance at Northwestern University and President Emeritus of the Incentive Marketing Association. Michelle was the Founder and Chair of the Editorial Board of Return on Performance Magazine, and has been featured on Fox Television, the BBC, in Fortune, Business Week, Inc. and other global publications, and contributed to the books Bull Market by Seth Godin, Contented Cows Still Give Better Milk, and Social Media Isn’t Social.   

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michelle-m-smith-cpim-crp



7 Comments on “Want to Engage High-Potential Employees? Don’t Take Them for Granted

  1. 7. Trust and support them in becoming ambassadors of your company brand and thus their own. Perhaps the biggest missed opportunity for any organization is to train and encourage employees to become avid, adept, credible and articulate in engaging customers, prospects and peers inside and outside the “walls” of the organization. The company can thus seize more opportunities, solve problems sooner, speed innovation, boost esprit de corps — and hone and keep top talent

  2. Excellent addition to the list, Kare – thank you! Besides all the benefits you’ve mentioned, research has linked the level of employee engagement directly to the level of customer engagement, loyalty, and spend. So helping employees become brand ambassadors, as you suggest, isn’t just the right thing to do but it’s also a very smart business decision.

  3. If I may add one Michelle.

    8. Credibility – Managers / Employers need to upholding high ethical and professional standards and treat their employees accordingly. Employees need to know they can trust their Manager / Employer while feeling proud of their achievements and performance. Individual achievements combined with Employer credibility creates new new opportunities for employee and employer.

  4. Nice piece Michelle. My concern is the recent tilt to this employee engagement discussion – that HR is responsible for ensuring it happens. While HR can *help*, It must come from ALL sections of an organization, and be encouraged and promoted by every leader in the company. When we give employees dignified work, compensate them fairly for their time and skills, and speak with them as *people* and not *resources*, we ALL win.

  5. Great article Michelle! As a manager/employer, you need to trust and support high-potential employees. Over the years, I have seen managers become
    threatened by high-potential employees that were say 20 years younger. It is
    the manager’s fear and insecurity that this person will “take my job away from me” or
    “make my work look bad in comparison”. In fact the opposite is
    true. Mentoring and encouraging such individuals only makes you more successful and
    makes your team strong. How can we go wrong when we encourage others/the next

    -Catherine Davis, ID Practice Lead for SweetRush

    1. Thanks for the link, Jonathan. More and more data is continuing to validate the impact of leadership on employee engagament – across all industries!

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