How do you groom a high-potential employee?

Employe Success

As a manager, one of the top satisfactions of my job is identifying and mentoring high-potential employees.

I will break down this post into two parts:

1. Identifying high-potential employees and
2. Grooming and mentoring them.

1. How do you identify high-potential employees?

In some cases, this is very easy.  The employee stands out in almost every way.  All of the other managers and peers all take notice.  People often say things like, “He/she is going places, etc.,” about this employee.

In other cases, identifying this employee is less obvious.  These are my personal favorites!

Oftentimes, these employees are “hidden gems.”  They are usually not the most outspoken and often have not had the right opportunity and environment to shine.  They are the ones with true determination and grit.  You notice them never giving up on problems.  Other people tend to like being around them.  They help other people with their tasks and are always willing to learn and ask great questions.

These employees are waiting for the right manager/mentor to give them the encouragement they need.

2. How to groom high-potential employees now that you have identified one?

The broad answer of course is, “it depends on the individual.”  However, there are a number of common ways to help them:

  1. Gain their trust.  As a manager looking to groom/mentor an employee you will be asking them to do certain things that might be out of their comfort zone.  Sometimes they will understand why and sometimes they will have to just have faith in you that you know what you are doing and that you have their best interest at heart.  If they do not trust you, it will not work.  Think of ways to build and earn their trust.
  2. Be their champion.  Be open & honest with your employee that you see the potential in them and that you would like to help them grow.  Make sure that this is something they want and the timing is right.  Sometimes they need a little encouragement.  Especially if this is one of the “hidden gems” you identified above.  Make your support of this person public.  Make it clear that you are not playing favorites, but that you encourage and support employee growth and advancement for those willing to work at it.  This will also help to build trust for the rest of your team.
  3. Put together a plan and set goals.  What do you see for this employee?  Are you grooming them for management or for a top individual contributor role?  Once you set a goal (and the employee agrees) now you have to build a plan to get there.  Make sure you set realistic expectations around timing.  Your plan should have achievable and tangible milestones along the way.  As a manager you need to include yourself in this plan and make sure you have the time and perseverance to commit to it.
  4. Be a coach.  Gradually push them harder to build their confidence.  I can’t stress enough how important confidence is in this process.  There are going to be setbacks and obstacles and having your employee believe in themselves is one of the best ways to have them not give up.  Sometimes all it takes is someone else believing in you to give them the initial confidence they need.
  5. They are going to have to want it.  This is important.  Coaches of top teams know and expect that the truly great players take it upon themselves to improve on their own.  They practice in the off-season, they do extra drills on top of their practice.  Your employee should also be working outside of the job on improvement.  Reading books, taking classes, going to workshops, etc.
  6. Give honest feedback.  Once you have gained their trust you should now be able to give honest feedback (especially it is is not positive).  Do not lose their trust by sugar-coating it.  There are a lot of books and articles explaining how to give constructive feedback.  If you want to be an effective coach/mentor/manager use this as a time to improve yourself and read them.
  7. Teach them about office/job politics.  I hate to include this here, but it is a fact of life.  If you cannot navigate the politics of situations you will never get as far as you want.  Consider it a necessary evil.
  8. Be a role model.  You can train and coach an employee all you want, but 80% of the way they are going to learn is from watching you.  Make sure your actions align with how you want them to act.

As a manager, make sure you provide a safe and positive environment that encourages people to grow and learn.  If you don’t, any high-potential employees will soon leave for another opportunity where they feel they can live up to their potential.

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