5 Must Have’s for any Successful High-Potential Program

You’ve finally done it! You’ve received approval and budget to develop the future leaders of your business. The excitement of the moment can quickly change to anxiety once you start thinking about everything you’ll need to do. As you consider ways to develop the future leaders of your business, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the amount of choices you’ll need to make.

The following are five characteristics any high-potential program must have to succeed at a high-level.

1. Recognition. Considering the amount of time leaders spend planning for the development of their next wave of leaders, it is absolutely astonishing how little time some companies spend communicating with them. Consider this – if I were to survey your hi-po’s, how many would actually know that they’ve been designated as someone with significant potential?

When participants are asked why they’ve decided to participate in training programs, they’ll often reply that the company has recommended it. It’s amazing how wide the engagement varies between those who are told they’re being recognized as high-performers and those who have no idea why they’re participating. Left to their own conclusions, it’s not surprising that many learners will assume that they’ve been sent to be “fixed” or have done something wrong.

2. Tied to both current and future business goals. This one can be tough because of the pace of change these days. Knowing what skills will be required in the coming years may not be as obvious as we’d like. For example, if your HR team is driving development, they’ll need to have a good level of business and financial acumen to understand both current and future needs.

If your programs are being met with resistance or a good number of participants suddenly develop scheduling conflicts that prohibit their participation, there is a good chance that your team is lacking in this area.

Action learning projects are a great way to tie the learning to relevant goals. After all, training and development is absolutely worthless unless we do something differently afterwards.

3. Collaboration – Including leaders from the business in the design and delivery of your high-potential program will improve relevance, engagement and results. It can also increase the credibility and efficiency of your learning team within the business, and open doors for them to make future suggestions on business improvements that are met with receptive ears. Get managers involved in tying the learning to specific Action Learning projects participants should tackle. Perhaps someone is being considered  as a possibility to fill their manager’s shoes – do your Action Learning projects align with your organization’s Succession Plan?

If you’re not sure where to start, seek an outside resource to facilitate collaboration. Sometimes having a third party involved can help overcome dynamics that stand in the way of effective collaboration.

4. Balance of individual and group development – Collaborating with the participants themselves is also a very powerful way to maximize results. When we have a say in matters, we’re much more likely to support them. This is just as true for gaining executive support as it is for learning participants at any level. Find out where learners would like to develop, and what strengths and opportunities they would like to work on. Talk to their managers to measure alignment and address blind spots.

Address the most common themes in group development and provide additional resources to address individual needs (ex: executive coaching, external programs, etc.). One size fits all does NOT meet holistic leadership development needs at any level. Some level of individualization is critical.

5. Exposure. Working with senior leaders in the business can bring out the best in high-potentials. They’ll put their best foot forward and the cream will rise. Do you want your future leaders to make decisions that reflect a better understanding of the big picture? Exposing them to the way executives think will create lines of sight between their actions and your company’s big picture goals. Find different ways for your executives to be involved based on their schedules, whether it’s through mentoring future leaders or attending the results presentations from your Action Learning projects.

This list only includes five characteristics. There are SO many more things we can do to make our high-potential programs more successful.

What ideas do you have? What’s missing?

Brian Williamson is the Director of Sales, North America for ProfitAbility Business Simulations. ProfitAbility partners with companies to accelerate the development of their current and future leaders to bridge the talent gap, increase engagement, retention and productivity. Contact: brian.williamson@profitability.com or 312.224.8066.


About Brian Williamson

I work with salespeople and leaders to get better results by taking a character-based approach. That means Executing by helping others Execute their priorities. I'm also the founder of Testimony & Tunes (www.testimonyandtunes.com) where everyday people share lessons learned through faith, and artists can share tunes that reflect their faith.


  1. very good and nice. worth reading n learning.

    The Deepak Sharma
    Group CHRO

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