engaging high potential employees
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. 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.
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.