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On average, the employee population in most companies falls into three broad groups: 

  • high-potential employees (Hi-Pos)—approximately 5%
  • poor performers—approximately 10%
  • solid performers—approximately 85%
employee population infographic

Knowing that they have limited resources, organizations often focus their time and development dollars on Hi-Pos. 

But what about everyone else? How can organizations take a different approach and provide targeted development resources for the solid performers who make up the bulk of their employee population?

In this article, I’ll draw on my experience leading talent processes for companies ranging from global retailers to mid-stage startups to outline a more nuanced approach to talent planning that makes more effective use of your resources.

What is Talent Planning?

Talent planning (also known as workforce planning) is a comprehensive strategy that encompasses hiring, retaining, and developing employees to meet the organization's current and future needs.

It sits in parallel to a company's performance management processes and requires input and support from both the generalist (ex: HRBP) and specialist (ex: Talent Acquisition, Learning and Development) HR functions.

Thinking Dynamically About Talent

Many organizations assess talent on a 9-box grid, considering both potential and performance to determine their talent type (ex: Stars, High Performers, Workhorses). 

the classic 9 box grid infographic
The classic 9-box grid. Template here.

While this information is useful, it’s not enough. We also need to consider:

  • Current Development Needs. Have they just gotten a promotion? Even if they’re a HiPo, their development needs are low. They are building their skills by taking on their new role. Are they a solid performer who has their role on lockdown and can take on more? Their development needs are high. They’re ready for more scope, new responsibilities, or a special project that will build their capabilities.
  • Capacity. Do they have bandwidth? Are they able to manage their current responsibilities and make time to take on a development experience? We often overload strong performers because we think we need to give them all of the opportunities. If they don’t have capacity, we either need to hold off on the opportunity or help them to create space by delegating some of their responsibilities, maybe also creating a development opportunity for someone else in the process.
  • Aspiration. What does the person want to do next? How do they want to grow their career? Really understanding that information will help us to better identify when they may sit on bench charts and ensure that they’re getting the development that will help them to get there faster.
  • Risk Level. Are they at a high, medium, or low risk for leaving? Why? If they're at high risk because they’re legitimately ready to be promoted but there is no role available, you can try to bridge the gap by providing a cool development experience that will put them in an even better position when the next level role is available. Are they at low risk because they’re fulfilled in their current role? Then you can divert resources elsewhere for the moment. This applies regardless of their talent type.

Off the back of this, we can add some more boxes to the traditional 9-box template.

development planning infographic
My additions to the traditional 9-box.

Talk To And About Talent Frequently

To have an ongoing pulse on these dynamic talent factors, leaders need to have frequent conversations with their direct reports.

It’s pretty standard to have a performance management cycle that stipulates a mid-year and end-of-year performance conversation (sometimes even quarterly). To be really in tune, these formal inflection points should cap regular, ongoing discussions–approximately monthly–about current performance, what skills they’re working on, what they need, and what’s next.

Leaders then share that information as part of quarterly talent review conversations at the function level. The leadership team can get a clear picture of the development needs across the organization and support based not just on potential but on all of the factors noted above. 

Instead of HiPos getting all of the stretch assignments, conferences, mentoring, and training opportunities, more people get the attention and support they need.

Meet People Where They Are

This is more important now than ever. Because organizations are having to shift and adapt to change at a rapid pace, future organizational needs are less predictable than they were in the past.

While the idea that HiPos deliver a significantly higher value to the organization may hold true, the roles that they are high potential for may not exist in the organization in the future.

At a hospitality start-up where I worked, we ended up letting a high potential leader go just a year after bringing him on because we shifted our business strategy away from the segment that we hired him to lead.

By meeting people where they are now–taking into account their development needs, risk level, capacity, and aspirations–we are able to increase capability across the organization, creating more bench strength and a greater depth of talent readiness for the future.

Some further resources to help you with your talent development initiatives:

You can also join the conversation in the People Managing People Community, a supportive community of HR and business leaders passionate about building organizations of the future.