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 / Spring 2014 / Issue 74(originally published by Booz & Company)


Align with Your Star Employees

From time to time, high potentials will stall or fall short of their goals. When this occurs, increase the frequency of your interactions, extracting learning from their experiences and revising goals and plans accordingly. Career goals are, at best, educated guesses about desired future outcomes. As we progress through our careers, we learn more about our strengths and passions and, more often than not, will need to refine our goals. Stay close, remain supportive through good times and bad, and be flexible. Doing so will turn your development partnership into a lifelong relationship, benefiting both parties as changes in jobs and companies occur.

Rewarding High Potentials

When it comes to recognizing top talent, ensure that promotions and compensation occur at a steady pace. Fight the good fight to ensure your high potentials are paid and promoted equitably, but don’t focus so narrowly that you overlook other, often more powerful opportunities.

Take another look at the top three rewards identified in the “what makes them tick” discussion and align rewards accordingly. In my experience, the highest-ranked rewards are power and influence, intellectual challenge and stimulation, and competence. People who rank power and influence high enjoy autonomy and/or authority over decisions and resources. You can foster their motivation by delegating decision rights that you would normally retain, inviting them to important meetings, and asking for their involvement and advice on key decisions. Those who rank intellectual challenge and stimulation as a top reward love to solve problems and to sink their teeth into difficult, often risky assignments. People who value competence are a bit wonky in that they are committed to becoming an expert, often showing a preference for developing in place. They will appreciate your help in positioning them as a company expert, and eventually industry expert, through assignments, education, and networking. As a final note, I have found that almost everybody values senior-level exposure as it provides access to information and the opportunity to influence and burnish one’s brand.

Of course, these are generalizations. You can personalize rewards by discussing various options with your high potentials, keeping their “top three” in mind, gauging their reactions, and confirming your insights by asking the question, “What would cause you to take a job with another company tomorrow?”

Tracking Your Progress

Although retaining top talent requires a lot of effort and expense, the gain is worth the pain. Track your progress and refine your efforts over time by keeping an eye on metrics such as:

  • Bench strength: percentage of key positions for which you have people ready now to step in
  • Capability: performance of newly promoted employees
  • Engagement: scores on employee engagement surveys and rate of turnover

It’s hard to overstate the importance of staying in close contact with your high potentials. Make it hard for them to leave you by making sure you don’t leave them. 

Reprint No. 00235

Author Profile:

  • Susan Cramm is a leadership coach, author, and former CFO and CIO. She is committed to the principle that the best leaders take care of business by taking care of the people entrusted to their care. She’s @scramm on Twitter.


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