Tips for engaging your company’s high-potential employees

Posted November 15, 2016

By Michael Henckel, associate editor, J. J. Keller & Associates

Whether an organization has a defined process for identifying high-potential employees, every organization should focus on retaining them by ensuring they are engaged with their work. High-potential employees (HiPos) are hard-working, highly motivated people, but once disengaged they will begin looking elsewhere for work that is more challenging and rewarding.

Just who are these HiPos?

In a nutshell, HiPos are the rising stars in an organization. High-potential employees are those who have been identified as possessing the skills or abilities needed for future leadership opportunities within a company’s succession plan.

According to CEB Inc. (formerly Corporate Executive Board), HiPos have three key characteristics in common: aspiration, ability, and engagement. While all three characteristics are important in understanding what drives HiPos, a study (also by CEB Inc.) found that 33 percent of HiPos are disengaged with their work or their employer.

Engage them or lose them

Engagement begins very early in the employment experience for HiPos. The following can help employers wanting to engage (or perhaps re-engage) their HiPos:

  • Make them feel valued. HiPos want to know that employers value their hard work and contributions. Without the recognition, HiPos become uncertain whether they are performing up to expectations or if their contributions are valued, and that uncertainty destroys engagement. Whether the recognition comes as higher compensation or just a thank you for a job well done, HiPos will remain engaged if they are recognized more often.
  • Tell them they are high-potential. Many employers shy away from this kind of recognition, but failing to include HiPos in the discussion of future growth potential could cause them to walk out the door.
  • Match each individual’s goals with company goals. Employers can go through a series of assessments to delve deeper into the interests, goals, and aspirations of each employee. HiPos generally want to be involved in planning their development, and mapping corporate goals with the development goals can be key to retaining that employee.
  • Expose the HiPos to high-risk opportunities. Challenging opportunities can really help HiPos thrive. Giving them the chance to face a high-risk situation (with proper support and coaching) can allow HiPos to more fully develop their leadership skills. Being too cautious with development may leave an organization with leaders who have never been fully tested, causing them to struggle with future challenges.
  • Make no assumptions. Never assume that HiPos are fully engaged. Regular communication can help reassure them that they are not taken for granted, and allows employers to have more direct conversations on whether their HiPos are sufficiently challenged by their work.

About the author:

Michael Henckel

Michael Henckel is an associate editor at J. J. Keller & Associates, a nationally recognized compliance resource company that offers products and services to address the range of responsibilities held by human resources and corporate professionals. Henckel specializes in topics such as the Fair Labor Standards Act, employee classification, and compensation. He is the author of J. J. Keller’s FSLA Essentials guidance manual. For more information, visit