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Many high-potential programmes not fit for purpose, CEB says

High-potential programmes are failing and putting organisations at risk of losing top talent, member-based advisory company CEB has warned.

In a report, Improving the odds of success for high-potential programmes, presented yesterday at the CEB’s annual Link conference, chief science and analytics officer Eugene Burke revealed that half of those identified high-potentials drop out of their programme within five years.
Of those that stay with the programme until completion, 46% of leaders moving into new roles fail to meet business objectives.
“The nomination process is wrong,” Burke told HR magazine. “Don’t confuse high performance with high potential. Organisations need to think: will they get there [into leadership roles]? Will they be effective in the future? And will they be with you?”
According to CEB research, only 15% of high performers are high potential, meaning for every six people entering high-potential programmes, only one will succeed.
Identifying high-potentials
Burke said a high potential employee is a proven high performer with three distinguishing attributes that will allow them to rise to and succeed in more senior positions: aspiration (the motivation to rise to senior roles), ability to be effective in those roles, and engagement to the organisation rather than just the role.
He said engagement “for tomorrow as well as today” was crucial to mitigate the risk of high potential employees leaving for rival organisations after you have invested in them, and advised asking people on the programmes to make a formal “commitment” to the organisation.
“If I’m going to put lots of time and money into you, why wouldn’t I ask you to make a commitment back,” he said. “HR needs to think about how aligned this individual is to the goals and mission of the organisation. Investing in people who are high-potential but not engaged enough with the company represents a flight risk – effectively accelerating the competition as star performers move to rival organisations.”
Burke said that managers are “critical” to the success of any high-potential programme. “Mangers are your biggest lever and your biggest risk to success of your high-potentials,” he said. “Always put high-potential employees with your best managers.”
To increase the odds of high-potential programmes succeeding, Burke offered four pieces of advice:

1. Start by thinking about your strong performers today;
2. Consider their aspirations (are they motived to rise to senior roles);
3. Engage them for today and tomorrow to ensure commitment; and,
4. Make sure managers are equipped to reinforce aspiration, ability and engagement.

“Greater clarity is needed on how high-potential is defined and how organisations address the key risks to the success of their programmes,” Burke said. “Too many programmes are directing resources, training and career opportunities towards employees who lack the aspiration, ability or engagement to be effective at the next level in their organisation.”