As the baby boomers retire at a rate of 10,000 per day in the US, businesses are figuring out innovative ways to keep the next generation of leaders engaged, challenged, and ready to take the reins.  A High-Potential (Hi-Po) program is a great way to get your next generation of leaders ready.  Here are a few things to consider:

Tip 1: Don’t Call it a High-Potential Program

If you go to HR conferences, “high-potential programs” are a common phrase.  And yes, we are talking about a program for your high-potential employees.  However, I would highly recommend avoiding the tendency to call it a high-potential program for a very simple reason - you do not want to consider employees not in the program to be, by default, “low potential”.  We recommend coming up with a different name for the program that means something to you.

Tip 2: Make it an Experience Over Time

I have seen some programs that are really just short term workshops or seminars.  The better programs last several months or even a year.  This gives you an opportunity to provide a variety of experiences for participants. 

Tip 3: Include a Mentoring Program

Mentors can help participants to navigate their experience in the program and within the company via  valuable insights. A powerful component to the program should include some internal mentoring, but it needs to be done right.  I recommend giving your participants a chance to select their mentors (or at least to put in their top choices).  I also recommend that you train both your mentors and participants on how to utilize the relationship.  Most mentor relationships fail because mentors don’t know how to coach their mentees and/or because participants don’t come prepared with good questions.  

Tip 4: Include Leadership Development

A basic component of most programs is leadership development.  There is a wide variety in the quality of programs.  The best programs are customized to your company and your employees and are highly interactive and practical.  Long lectures are ineffective.  Workshops where your participants are given basic concepts and then challenged to apply those concepts to real world situations are very powerful. 

Tip 5: Give the Participants Time with Each Other

In the programs we have helped our clients to manage, one of the biggest impacts are the relationships formed between participants.  Really good programs start with a retreat and team activities that allow participants to get to know each other and what they do within the company.  We also recommend having social activities throughout the year such as baseball games, dinners with executives, or any opportunity where participants can hang out.  The relationships formed will break down silos within your organization and reap long term benefits.  

Tip 6: Selection Process

Whatever process you use, it is important to promote the purpose and expectations within your organization. This helps participants understand and own their program experience.  In some programs, we have seen individuals be selected through nominiations from Managers and Executives. If you use a nomination process, it is important to tell participants why they were nominated and selected. An application process is another common and good way to determine who is dedicated to be in the program, but you will have some applicants who may not get selected. If this method is used, it is important to communicate with those who are not selected, both helping them strengthen their applications and encouraging them to apply again the future.

Tip 7: Use Real Projects

Rather than making your program theoretical, consider giving participants the opportunity to work on a project that will directly impact the company's bottom line or solve a key issue that is hindering the company's success. We collaborate with a partner annually to faciliate their program and launch projects that create significant impact for the company and easily pays for the entire program itself.  The real experiences are valuable.  Make sure to support participants and check in while they work on their projects to maximize their chance for success.  

Tip 8: Add an Alumni Component

Once you’ve gotten past your first year of the program, incorporating alumni relationships and engagement can motivate and build teamwork within past and current participants.  You can start by inviting past participants to present or be involved with future classes.  We find that past participants are excited to get involved.  Then you can build alumni events and even workshops where people can build relationships and widen their network within the organization.  

Tip 9: Celebrate and Learn from the Results

At the end of the program, have the participants come together to present the results of their projects, talk about what they learned, and to celebrate their success.  This is a great opportunity to collect feedback, follow up, and enhance the program for the future.

Tip 10: Building in Organization Specific Experiences

Some of the best experiences we’ve seen in programs are customized to the company, such as tours of facilities or exposure to top executives.  We recently had one company executive present the company's strategic plan to the participants.  That experience was a great opportunity to expose participants to the ways decisions are made and why. At the same time, it helped leadership see reactions towards the strategic plan from team members who would not ordinarily see it. We cannot say it enough - do not underestimate the value of access to executives.  Participants value time with executives.    

Tip 11: Use an Outside Facilitator

Yes, this is self-serving, but it is also good advice.  When we have helped companies launch these programs, they praise our involvement even if they could have built the program themselves.  The reason is that we can bring everything your program needs to the table (leadership workshops, project management, mentor training, coaching) and advise your team on best practices.  The reasons participants enjoy our involvement as an outside facilitator is that we are a safe place where they can explore real issues.  In many of our programs, we offer coaching for each participant in addition to the mentoring from company colleagues.

Competition for talent is fierce and if your organization is not doing innovative things to engage and develop your best employees, your competitors will do it for you.  

If you’d like to learn more, give us a call or email me at


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