CEB, the leading member-based advisory company, today announces new global research that reveals high-potential programmes can be improved by a factor of 11 to deliver the managers and leaders needed to drive growth and performance. Despite high-potential programmes currently failing, organisations are making an average learning and development investment approaching $2 million annually. By also investing in the wrong people, organisations are at risk of building their competitors’ talent pipeline with potential star performers moving to rival organisations.

One factor which is hindering high-potential initiatives is the assumption that today’s high performers are also high-potential talent, which is simply not true. Only one in six employees entering a high-potential programme will succeed in a senior role and only 15% of employees performing well in a role today have what it takes to rise to and be effective in more senior and challenging roles in the future.

Building on a decade’s worth of insight and drawing on a sample of 6.6 million people globally, the CEB study reveals how high-potential programmes can be more effective and efficient and dramatically changing the odds of success. The research also reveals thatorganisations are losing up to 50% of their candidates from high-potential programmes while 46% of new business leaders fail to meet their business objectives. Therefore investing in a clear framework for identifying these individuals is vital.

Greater clarity is needed on how high-potential is defined and how organisations address the key risks to the success of their programmes. Put simply, 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,” said Eugene Burke, chief science and analytics officer, CEB. “This misidentification of talent is preventing those with the strongest potential from reaching a senior role where their talents are most critical to the organisation’s future, impacting productivity, innovation and performance.”

The CEB research finds that only a third of organisations are using valid assessment methods to identify high-potential talent and almost half lack any systematic process for identifying and developing these candidates. One in two HR professionals admit that they lack confidence in their high-flyer programmes and deem them ineffective for producing the future managers and leaders their organisations need.

“Without assessment, a clear framework and the right data to address the key risks, then the odds are stacked in favour of failure with as many as six candidates failing to everyone that succeeds in these programmes. To change those odds in favour of success, organisations need to collect data that tells them whether the employee will rise to a senior position, will be effective when they get there and whether they will still be with the organisation when they get there. The failure to address these three key questions is why many programmes are unable to deliver,” said Burke.

“Companies risk giving too much responsibility to the wrong people, which could push them to leave the company, or increase performance issues as they struggle with elevated responsibility and expectation,” continued Burke. “Most worryingly, 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.”

A new high potential framework

The CEB framework provides a practical blueprint for identifying true high-potentials that addresses all three critical questions: will they get there, will they be effective and will they be with the organisation when they achieve their career goals? Among the findings through which this framework was developed is an 11 fold improvement in the odds of an employee reaching an executive position. Six key motivational factors coupled with key behaviours that translate aspiration into tangible career success are what drive this dramatic shift in the odds for success with little difference between men and women in their potential to reach an executive position.

“There is mounting pressure on the HR department from the C-suite to prove the value of any talent investment made, not least high potential programmes which could deliver future leaders for the business. By taking this best-practice framework, organisations can de-risk their high-potential investment and deliver greater ROI from their wider talent initiatives.”

CEB identified four key actions that organisations can use to improve the success of their high potential programmes:

  1. Adopt a clearer definition of high-potential that recognises its difference from high performance.
  2. Identify whether high-potential candidates have the ability and aspiration to rise to and be effective in more senior roles.
  3. Proactively evaluate engagement and act to mitigate flight risk among high-potential employees by evaluating their engagement today and their longer-term commitment to the organisation in the future.
  4. Use stretch roles and assignments to:
  • Help high-potential employees develop, reinforce and apply their aspiration to succeed to more senior roles
  • Build the ability to be effective in managing, leading and adapting to changes in the work environment by targeting specific development needs
  • Reinforce and build engagement by strengthening the employees’ belief that their career interests lie with the organisation and that their contribution to the organisation’s mission is vital

CEB’s report ‘Improving the Odds of Success for High-Potential Programmes’ extends the insights from a decade’s worth of research with leading organisations into what makes high-potential programmes thrive.