Here are a few points to consider when evaluating if or when it’s time to broach the topic of potential with an employee.
August 9, 2022
Q: How do you cultivate high potential employees who have been identified by their managers but have not asked for increased responsibilities?
A: As the Great Resignation – as so many are calling it – continues, it’s important for talent managers to reframe the way they understand the employer-employee relationship. It’s not that people want to quit working altogether; people no longer want to work for companies and teams where they don’t feel valued and don’t see opportunities for growth and development. And obviously, if they don’t see those elements in their current work environment, they will seek greener pastures.
While each company has its own philosophy regarding whether to tell employees they are viewed as high potential, everyemployee has a need to feel they are valued. In this challenging labor market, it would be wise for leaders to not wait for employees to ask for opportunities. They now have a unique opportunity to have this discussion with each team member and be mindful that employees’ goals and interests may shift over time. This is especially true during the pandemic where women have increased home responsibility burdens.
And while some companies don’t believe in being proactive about telling employees they have high potential, others do. In fact, every company has its own methodology used to identify people in the succession pipeline. Here are a few points to consider when evaluating if or when it’s time to broach the topic of potential with an employee.
Have open, equal conversations
It might sound simple, but there’s a lot you can accomplish with a frank conversation. I’m an advocate for speaking with all employees about their potential; it’s important to help employees understand how their skills and capabilities contribute to the business’s growth, change and evolution.
What’s interesting about this potential conversation is that when most men have conversations about their potential, their team leaders will talk to them about how their current role will help prepare them for other roles down the road. Conversely, most women receive transactional feedback about the work they completed but not how their work prepares them for career shifts and upscales in the future. That’s why it’s so important that there’s a dual responsibility for these discussions. You and other members of your organization need to be conscious about creating equity in these discussions. Managers shouldn’t just be having these talks with men but should be having them with diverse talent, especially as it relates to gender and minorities.
Let employees lead
It’s important for individuals to drive those discussions. Not everyone wants to build additional skills or acquire additional responsibilities at work for many reasons. There are a lot of jobs people can do but that they wouldn’t enjoy – even if a change signaled career mobility or something similar.
In some instances, it’s a case of an employee feeling as though they would flounder if tossed into the deep end of a new role or some additional responsibilities. This is when it’s important for you as a talent manager to step up and – with the help of this employee’s manager – craft support systems (such as mentorships) and provide guardrails to help this person feel as though they have the support they need to succeed in this next phase of their career. As a result, many employees feel empowered to harness their growth potential when offered this support.
However sometimes, especially now, an employee’s hesitancy to take on new projects or look ahead toward career advancement is a “no” in disguise.
Women may hesitate because they may look at roles that are inhabited by men and think they do not have the time to do the job in the same way. In a world with few female role models, managers need to coach women to discuss their expectations of the job and make it clear that they don’t need to do the job as others have done it.
Having conversations around employee potential and goals is a way of understanding your organization’s talent pipeline, and that means it’s vital that you allow employees to speak with you about those two elements of their work in a judgment-free zone.
Manage management expectations
If a manager comes to you as an HR professional and says they feel a member of their team has a lot to offer your organization and they want to cultivate this person’s capabilities, it’s important to steer that conversation – and the actions it provokes – in the right direction.
A manager invested in watching their team members grow into their full potential within their organization should work with HR leaders and employees to empower the latter as they are pushed out of their comfort zone into roles that help broaden their understanding of the business.
It’s critical to expose them to senior leaders and evolve their mindset around the roles and opportunities they may enjoy. Your role as a manager is to foster that growth and development. But it’s not always about comfort; sometimes, when we’re growing, we’re certainly not always comfortable, but it’s vital that managers and their team members feel your willingness to support them through that discomfort.
As a talent manager, it’s important to think universally about the potential within your organization. Understanding implicit biases within these conversations and ensuring that you’re working with employees and their desires for career growth and change will keep you from overlooking the hidden gems in your organization – and unearthing their full growth potential in the process.