Ideal Strategies to Retain High Potentials

By Kaitlyn D’Onofrio

Photo by Shutterstock
Photo by Shutterstock

Recruiting high potentials is only half the battle in the war for talent. Once you’ve attracted the top talent, how do you encourage them to stay? Michael Fenlon, Principal U.S. and Global Talent, PricewaterhouseCoopers (No. 3 on DiversityInc’s Top 50 Companies for Diversity), shared some of his recommendations that work for his company at DiversityInc’s High Potentials and the War for Talent event on Sept. 30.

Admit to Having Blind Spots

Rather than ignore the fact that no one is immune to having blind spots — even women and minorities — Fenlon insisted it is imperative to acknowledge “we all experience blind spots … that affect all interactions.” Fenlon recommends implementing mandatory unconscious bias training at the leadership level. If managers are made aware of these blind spots, they will know how to rectify them when interacting with their diverse high potentials. Once this understanding is built at the managerial level, Fenlon said, it will eventually reflect in the rest of the managers’ teams. “Whole leadership starts with self-awareness.”

Performance Management

For PwC, performance management now includes talent review, allowing the company to identify their diverse high potentials at even earlier stages than before. Once a diverse high potential has been identified, there is now room for a personalized discussion about that employee’s specific career goals. This will make you aware of their aspirations and where they want their careers to go.

In addition to improving your own understanding, this will also open the door for your high potentials to know where they stand. Fenlon gave three key factors for high potentials to be aware of during their career outlook discussions at PwC:

• My Development — What is my career path? Where do I want to go from here?

• My Progression — What does my PwC professional profile look like? Am I progressing at the rate I’d like to be?

• My Performance – What is my relative impact? How am I doing as an employee at PwC?

Fenlon also emphasized the importance of performance criteria being clear and consistent. PwC’s own professional career progression framework, which focuses on relationships, business acumen, global acumen and technical capabilities, has been implemented globally so that PwC employees around the world are all drawing from the same platform.

Real Time Feedback

Often, high potentials don’t even know they’ve been identified as such. And when they do, they may feel they aren’t receiving enough feedback on their performances. When it comes to diverse high potentials, they may feel like they’re missing out on even more.

Rather than rely on regimented and structured yearly performance reviews, when you “document and label people,” Fenlon emphasized the importance of “real time, in the moment feedback.” He suggested moving away from the fixed mindset of, “What’s my performance review” in favor of a growth mindset, where you emphasize relationship skills, inclusive leaderships and all dimensions of diversity. “The focus is not on that periodic appraisal,” Fenlon said. And since under-represented groups often believe they receive even less feedback than their peers, Fenlon suggested to “put this on steroids” for your diverse high potentials.

Teach by Example

Giving your high potentials the opportunity to learn and grow through experience and asking questions is vital, Fenlon said. He recommended the use of the Socratic method, which allows individuals to ask and answer questions in order to gain knowledge from one another. “Use questions to enable [their] development,” Fenlon suggested.

Hands on experience will also keep high potentials interested. Letting your high potentials sit in on calls, observe meetings and be involved in decision making will allow them to learn much more valuable knowledge and skills than they would by simply explaining these things to them verbally after they’ve already happened.

Fenlon also spoke about the Diamond Program at PwC. The program is designed for managers and high-level people from under-represented groups to gain this type of valuable experience. They are assigned a mentor and given various opportunities to further cultivate not only their professional skills but their personal skills as well.

They learn through experience while on the job. In addition to hands on experience, these employees are also given a targeted career focus, allowing them to broaden their specific professional network. Employees sometimes stay in this program for two or three years.

Alignment of Business and Talent Strategies

Implementing the initiatives Fenlon suggested will prove beneficial not only for your high potentials and for your retainment data but for your company’s bottom line. While most people may see business initiatives and recruitment goals as two separate entities, Fenlon explained that they can actually go hand in hand. And the results will be beneficial for both, he said, as PwC has seen in their experience.

PwC’s findings show that 85 percent of companies that aligned their business and talent strategies saw stronger financial performance, and 75 percent reported higher revenue growth. In addition, 77 percent saw improved strategy implementation overall when aligning the two initiatives.

Fenlon also provided advice for better business solutions in general, explaining why band-aid fixes are not the best way to go. “It’s easy to go down rabbit holes and deal with symptoms,” he explained, rather than focus on true strategies. So when developing these aligned strategies, it is important to ask yourself what solutions will work over a long period of time and continue to work.

When determining what strategies have the most impact, Fenlon said the use of real statistical data will go a long way. According to Fenlon, data usage will show you what strategies are working and which ones are less beneficial. This will also allow for accountability.

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