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High-Potential Employees

Promotions Aren’t the Only Way to Hold on to Them

Those designated as high-potential employees are some of the most important on the payroll – providing you've identified the right ones – and need to be kept engaged, but there are a range of options

All big companies now recognize the importance of high-potential employees. Leading a team and empowering all to make good decisions is now a vital and necessary part of running a successful company, especially in today’s work environment that relies far more on collaboration, consensus, and independent thinking, and far less on hierarchical efficient teamwork than even it once did.

But those that have the potential to be leaders – who have the right mix of aspiration, ability, and engagement, and are commonly known as HIPOs – often want to progress quickly, and will not be engaged with their job or employer for long if they are not given what they feel are the right kinds of experience and opportunities.

The job of not only keeping HIPOs engaged, but giving them the right opportunities to ensure they develop into the senior managers that they and their company wants, often falls to HR business partners (HRBPs). And many of them feel they are running out of ideas for how to engage their HIPOs.

Other Options

At a recent CEB event, the hundreds of HRBPs that attended overwhelmingly said that the most common tactic they use to keep HIPOs engaged is to promote them. But while a new title and more pay is undoubtedly a good engagement tactic (if the employee merits it), there is one method that’s actually more effective at boosting HIPO engagement than promotions, according to CEB analysis, and that’s to help them improve their skills.

These “progression opportunities” come from giving HIPOs roles that help them refine the skills they have, and add new ones, and expand their responsibilities in preparation for the next level. Progression opportunities have the greatest boost on HIPO engagement (at 25%), relative to satisfaction with current income (18%) and with promotions (17%), according to CEB data.

It’s not that promotions or compensation increases are bad or ineffective – they just don’t need to be (and probably shouldn’t be) the focus of how you as an HRBP engage your HIPOs.

HRBPs play a critical role in helping to create an environment in which HIPOs can access the right opportunities at the right time. They can do this in two main ways – within HIPOs existing roles or moving them into a new role – and, to get started, should consider these ideas.

  • Identify growth opportunities by conducting regular discussions with managers, and test your ideas with fellow HRBPs to get their feedback on potential problems with redesigning HIPOs’ roles.
  • Improve HR’s visibility across different bits of the business by sharing knowledge of available progression opportunities with fellow HRBPs.
  • Involve colleagues with a view across the whole business, such as skip-level managers, executive sponsors, and senior leaders.
  • Improve HIPOs’ understanding of the opportunities available to them by providing timely updates through a career portal or workflow shadowing (the practice of watching how others go about their work).


More On…

  • High-Potentials

    CEB analysis shows that HIPOs are 91% more valuable than non-HIPOs, but 73% of HIPO programs are failing to deliver business outcomes and 69% do not build a strong succession pipeline. Learn how to remedy that.

  • Human Resources Business Partner

    Learn more about CEB's work on the role of HR business partners.

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