Should You Tell Employees They're High Potential?

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Should leaders tell employees they have high potential?

There are pros and cons to doing so.

The advantages to telling select employees that they have high potential include:

  •          Increased retention, motivation and commitment. By telling high potentials that they have promising futures within the company, they'll become (and remain) more invested.
  •          Securing their involvement and active participation. If they believe they're on track to succeed, they'll be more committed to the company's success.
  •          Determining their mobility. If companies expect high potentials to relocate, it can be helpful to ask early on if they're mobile. If not, it may limit their opportunities, and leaders might consider other, more mobile talent for development and advancement instead.

The disadvantages to telling are:

  •          They could start believing their own press. Praising them as high potentials may result in overconfident, unbearable employees.
  •          The grapevine: If you're telling 10 percent of the workforce they're high potentials, what are you telling the other 90 percent? Word spreads quickly in any organization, so once employees know who's considered high potential, the rest of the team could quickly become disillusioned, unmotivated and unproductive.
  •          The risk of creating a caste system. Once staff know who is considered high potential, it can cause tension between "the haves" and "the have-nots."
  •          They take on too much, too soon. High potentials want to prove they can handle additional responsibilities, and often they fail because they've taken on projects and responsibilities that they're not equipped to handle.

When deciding whether to tell select employees that they're high potential, heed these tips:

  •          Consider the whole package. Don't assume employees are high potential just because they perform well. They should also maintain strong relationships with key stakeholders and act according to company values. 
  •          Recognize and reward excellent work. Regardless of whether you're telling employees they're high potential, acknowledge when they're performing well. Reward hard work with bonuses, raises and advancement. By recognizing strong performance, you're telling employees they're valuable, increasing their motivation, determination and commitment.
  •          Coach top talent. Provide high performers with increased training, responsibilities, mentoring and, ultimately, advancement. Nurturing strong performers is far more valuable than simply telling them that they're high potential.
  •          Weed employees out. Some leaders tell high performers their status, then weed out those that don't have the maturity to handle that level of candor. If after learning that they're considered high potentials, employees become overconfident or obnoxious, it can lead to their demise, leaving room for more mature, hardworking prospects to advance instead.
  •          Be specific. The term "high potential" can be vague and open to interpretation. Be clear about expectations and benchmarks/timelines for advancement.
  •          Decide whether you can afford to gamble. If an employee is a key asset, critical to the business and on track to accelerate within your organization, can you afford not to tell them that they're a high potential with a bright future at your company? By staying quiet, do you risk having high performers defect to competitors?


David Brookmire, Ph.D., is an Atlanta-based executive advisor, researcher, author and recognized authority in leadership effectiveness. He can be reached via

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