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Importance of Bench Strength: Develop All Your Employees, Not Just Your High Potentials

November 5, 2015

High Potentials, also referred to as HiPos, are employees who have been identified by higher-ups as having the potential, ability and aspiration for leadership positions within the company. They are part of an organization’s succession plan.

Employees want to be a high potential. It gives them a chance to get ahead, be identified as a potential leader of the organization and puts them on the fast track.

The problem with senior management focusing on high potentials is that it sends an unintentional, subtle, but symbolic message to everyone else in the organization that they are a “low potential.”

The truth is high potentials get very different experiences than everyone else: 

  • They are more likely to have access to opportunities to provide senior leadership with feedback on areas like culture, strategy and direction of the organization. 
  • They have more access to high valued development assignments. 
  • They have a clearer view of their career path as a leader within the organization. 
  • They are more likely to have a challenging, written and up-to-date developmental plan; and
  • They are more likely to receive information about what it takes to be a successful leader in their organization. 

If you think about it, being a high potential employee is a pretty good place to be. When an employee is not a high potential, it sends them a pretty clear signal of what their opportunities are or are not in the organization. 

Now, the irony is that there is no difference between intended retention between the high potential and non-high potential employees. Both groups have the same perspective about leaving an organization within the next year.

However, what does that mean for a manager? It means while you may spend your time and energy on a small group of high potentials, you have a good shot that you will lose some or possibly many of them. Who are you left with? Non-high potentials. They may also leave, but if they stay, they are not as developed as they should or need to be. 

The other problem with sending this exclusive message is that you get back what you give.  People who are not part of the high potential group do not feel as valued.  Typically, when an employee does not feel valued they give the organization less discretionary effort. 

In today’s fast paced business world, employers need to spend time and energy focusing on developing everyone. People don’t stay at companies as long anymore. In addition, they have easier access to new opportunities, want to continue to challenge themselves, grow their career and ensure long-term success in their career path. Many companies have realized this and are starting to invest time and money into all of their employees. If you don’t, your company will fall short.

If you see each employee as having potential to grow and a productive development process, your organization will grow overall. Even if certain people leave, you still have bench strength. 

Everyone should be considered high potential. It is a matter of inclusion and performance.