When devoting resources to high-potential employees, it's important to consider more than just their pedigree and ambition.
When trying to determine who their high-potential employees are, many businesses look for MBA graduates and those who are rising quickly through the ranks. These people can be fantastic for your organization.
When you devote all your resources to them, however, you run the risk of committing all of your training dollars to workers who are anxious to climb the career ladder and may jump ship. You need to make sure the people you invest in not only have the ability to learn more, but fit the culture of your organization, making them more likely to stay around.
Why Ambition Isn't the Best Bet
One of the problems with small- to medium-sized businesses is that there is limited opportunity for upward movement. There's a lot of room for personal growth, but not for promotion. There may or may not be room for a raise.
An employee who wants to rise to the top might be frustrated that they will never be promoted to the VP of Marketing because that position is filled by someone with no intention of departing. The ambitious employee will jump ship.
Now, if you want to groom such a person for an eventual leadership role, you'll need to either be willing to create that role, or be reasonably confident that the current person will leave. If you need someone to do a specific job and perhaps expand in that role, but there is no upward movement possible, then focus your energies on someone who wants to stay.
Consider What you Really Need
Small businesses often need people who can fill multiple roles. Such organizations rarely have the luxury of hiring an expert in just one area. You need to sit down and make a list of the skills that your business needs — not just a list of what you need for an empty position. This list should include skills that you currently have.
This list will help you evaluate where your business is focused, and what areas you might need to fill as time goes on. No one stays in a position forever; you need to consider two, three and even 10 years down the road. If you can hire people that will stay long-term, that's your best bet.
How do you Find People who Will Stay Long-Term?
Some people move on every 18 months. Some stay in the same organization until retirement. How do you find people in the latter group and invest in them? How do you make those people your high-potential employees?
First of all, you have to be brutally honest in your job ads and interviews. Make sure you share the good and the bad. You want someone who can tolerate the bad parts of the job. Additionally, it's often good to find someone who is from the area or is at least settled there. When you bring someone who has to relocate, they often don't have the support they need to stay forever. This can be especially true if the town your organization is based in is smaller.
How do you Train and Reward High Potential With Little Room for Growth?
Every business has room for growth. What they don't all have is room for title growth. Make sure you focus your efforts on the people who will bring the most to your business long-term. Pay for them to go to industry conferences. Let them take on new responsibilities. Bump pay up accordingly. Allow flexibility, like great vacation time, occasional telecommuting (or 100 percent) and support them in other endeavors.
You want, most of all, high-potential people to be happy in what they do. Because that happiness will translate to success for your business.
High-potential people also want to know what they can do better because they want to get better. So, provide feedback.
Consider Business Growth
If you want to grow your business, your best bet may be hiring someone with ambition who wants to remain local. During the hiring process, make sure you discuss your priorities with the candidates to ensure your goals align.
Remember that your business needs are unique, so your high-potential employees may not look and act like those at a Fortune 100 business.
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