6 Ways to Keep Your Rising Stars on Track

Photo: Yuri_Arcurs

You may think it's safe to assume your rising stars are also highly excited and committed to your company, but Jason Martin and Conrad Schmidt's research suggests otherwise. Over the past six years, they studied over 20,000 "emerging stars" at more than 100 organizations worldwide. Considering the statistics that came out of the study, you may want to rethink any assumptions you have regarding your high potentials:

  • One in four intends to leave her current employer within the next year. 12% of all the high potentials in the study said they were actively searching for a new job.
  • One in three admits he is not putting all his effort into his job.
  • One in five believes her personal aspirations are very different from what the company has planned for her.
  • Four in 10 have little confidence in their co-workers and even less confidence in the senior team.

So, what can you do to combat negativity in your rising stars? Here are six ways to keep your company's best assets — its future leaders — on track.

1. Keep them engaged.

Your rising stars want stimulating work, recognition for their accomplishments, and the chance to push their career forward and prosper with the company. If the company is struggling, however, they are the first to consider leaving. Confident in their skills, they are the ones most likely to actively research other opportunities.

Even if your company is experiencing rough times (as many companies are these days), you need to make sure that high potentials are engaged in the company. Give them the recognition they're due by celebrating their successes and reward them with flexible work options, such as once-a-week telecommuting. Make it clear that their individual goals align with company goals and let them help solve major problems. The more involved they are with building the company's future, the less likely they will jump ship when the going gets tough.

2. Assess them for future potential.

The three attributes that really matter in the success of rising stars are ability, engagement and aspiration. Your rising stars need to have the intellectual, technical, and emotional skills necessary to handle future challenges, especially as their roles in the company become more and more important. They also need to feel personally connected and committed to your company and its mission. And they certainly need to want to advance in the company.

According to Martin and Schmidt's research, 70% of high performers don't have the levels of ability, engagement, and aspiration necessary to succeed in future roles. Although it certainly isn't impossible to do well without them, the chances for success are greatly reduced if even one attribute is found lacking. Design annual tests and interviews to assess these dimensions. You want to make sure that your rising stars will continue to rise.

3. Manage them at the corporate level.

Don't delegate the management of your top talent to line managers. Sure, line managers may know employees' individual strengths and weaknesses. It may also seem to make sense from an economic standpoint because the costs of talent development programs are shifted from corporate headquarters into the budgets of the department or business unit.

However, leaving the cultivation of your future leaders exclusively to business units tends to narrow the development opportunities of top talent, focusing on the skills required now rather than those needed tomorrow. Instead, senior leaders and general managers must share the development of high potentials. Your star players will be much more willing to contribute to the company if they're treated like the critical organizational assets that they are.

4. Place them in "live fire" roles.

Emerging stars need to be placed in demanding roles where they have to acquire new capabilities in order to succeed. Don't shield them by leaving them where you know they'll succeed. Your company's future leaders need to be developed and tested in "live fire" roles where they must perform under real stress and where there the chance of failure is very real.

Start by identifying the high-impact positions in your company that can offer quick development and learning opportunities (i.e., "brand manager for a leading product" or "marketing director for a new segment"). Then, make an effort to assign most of these positions to your high potentials. Yes, failure can disrupt the business, but if you shield your emerging talent from derailment in the training stage, they may not be able to handle greater challenges later on.

5. Make them feel special.

Martin and Schmidt's research found that under normal circumstances, high potentials put in 20% more effort than other employees in the same roles; their contributions may be even greater if the company has recently downsized or restructured. However, don't take their extra efforts for granted just because they're willing to do the work.

Give your support to your company's best employees. One company in the study dedicates a portion of the dollars saved through layoffs towards the emerging leaders' bonus pool, while another company buys lunch for its high potentials every day. Such gestures of appreciation, whether generous or modest, show your employees that hard work will be rewarded accordingly.

6. Share future strategies with them.

One of the strongest factors in high top employees' engagement is their confidence in their managers and in the company's strategic capabilities. If you don't disclose corporate strategies at times of economic uncertainty, you risk disengaging the very people that can help your company pull through.

Share strategies with your high potentials by sending them e-mail updates, inviting them to meetings with high-level executives, or providing other opportunities for them to weigh in on corporate direction. Let them know they're part of the team that is building the company's future. That's exactly what you want your rising stars to do, after all.

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