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High Potentials vs. High Performers: How to Identify and Develop Talent for the Leadership Pipeline

November 21, 2022
By: Patrick Bosworth in the Great Leaders category.

For any enterprise, acquiring and fostering talent plays a pivotal role in the company’s growth strategy and eventual success. This is especially true when it comes to nurturing the type of talent that will be retained three, five, or ten years down the road. While both high-performing and high-potential talent are crucial for an organization’s leadership pipeline, focusing on developing high-potential talent (HiPo) offers a greater organizational return, more effectively buffering against future organizational uncertainty and ensuring long-term leadership.

While high-performers outperform the average employee by up to 400%, HiPo talent is 91% more valuable to an organization, according to SHL research, as it tends to have a multiplier effect on an entire team’s productivity. Both HiPo’s and high performers are highly adept at their job function; however, while high-performers are typically more specialized and have a deep understanding of their role, HiPo’s demonstrate a greater degree of adaptability in both the knowledge and the skills they learn.

High-performers are described as self-starters in that when they want to learn a new skill, they seek out the resources or help they need to do so independently. HiPo’s, while also self-starters in their own right, seek new opportunities rather than just skills—a lack of perceived growth trajectories within a company is a primary reason these individuals leave a company. Knowing how to target these employees, communicate career opportunities and foster leadership development is how best to leverage HiPos as enterprise assets.

How to Identify High-Potential Talent


Some characteristics to look for in a potential HiPo include:

  • Willingness to take on responsibilities beyond their job description
  • Collaborative work ethic and commitment to company values
  • Demonstrated ability with their current position and hunger to improve
  • Problem-solver that can prioritize tasks under pressure
  • Desire to progress to leadership or specialist roles


While some organizations rely on performance reviews and observations to conduct analysis on high-potential employees, others use more data-based, robust methodologies such as the High-Performance Trait Indicator (HPTI) and 9-Box Grid to develop talent resources for the leadership pipeline. The HPTI measures an employee’s personality traits against the optimal amount for a current or future position, whereas the 9-Box Grid measures an employee’s current contribution to an enterprise against their potential. Successful organizations focus both on placing high-potential talent in suitable roles for the short term and have medium- and long-term career paths in mind for that individual within the company’s future.

Leadership Development for High-Potential Talent


Over 75% of HiPo’s feel the need to be recognized by their employers, and by doing so formally and directly, employers can expect greater loyalty and talent retention. There are a variety of channels and means to recognize this talent, through shout-outs, performance reviews, or other incentives. But recognition is only the first step. By soliciting input (needs and desires) from HiPos, organizations can begin to foster their development and plan their career path within an organization, through mentorship programs, leadership training, or other forms of professional development.

Leadership Training

As future leaders, HiPos are critical assets requiring proper investment. While some employers worry that engaging HiPos in leadership training only makes them more attractive to competitors, inaction with regard to these individuals will almost certainly cause churn. Maintaining a healthy pool of talent for leadership vacancies is critical for long-term organizational stability. Retention and employee happiness aside, companies with the highest levels of employee engagement are 22% more profitable than those that don’t invest in talent.

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