In recruitment it’s often said that employers compete for the same candidate— someone who is talented, motivated, committed to invest in both your and their own success—and willing to stay around for a while!

Demand for high-potential employees is increasing due to growth and competitive pressure.  Having a strong pipeline of high-potential talent is vital to organizations because it builds an organization’s competitive advantage for the future.(1) 

While research has shown that companies tend to think of their high potential employees as representing between 3% and 5% of new hires, it is now unmistakable that the majority of new employees expect to be offered the same opportunities as any valued addition to the team.  That includes the chance to showcase their talents, be recognized and rewarded for achievements, and most definitely, provided meaningful opportunities to advance their career.

Given this, what if the real question behind rock-star recruitment decisions wasn’t how to find the illusive 3% to 5% of top performers?  What if finding and keeping potential has to do with growing it than competing against other companies for it?

Find the Right ‘Who’

In order to thrive organizations must “identify candidates with the highest potential, get them in your corner and on your team, and help them grow” according to Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, author of It’s Not the How or the What but the Who: Succeed by Surrounding Yourself with the Best (2014).

Spotting potential starts long before you schedule the interview—it begins when you determine which screening criteria you’ll use.  A growing number of thought leaders suggest that by weighting hiring preferences toward current skillsets and past experience, organizations risk increased turnover.

Conversely, linking talent spotting to a candidate’s values and characteristics becomes a predictor of their future success in a position and increases retention rates; especially for high potentials. It makes sense because, while performance gets an employee noticed and promoted early in their career, behavior is what keeps them on the radar as a high potential.

In recruitment, the language you use and the meaning and weight you give to these character determine whether a true partnership is being formed, or a more traditional employer-employee psychological contract; the later much less likely to help retain top talent.

If the art of great ‘who’ decisions is the difference between success and failure when making crucial hiring decisions, then savvy employers first need to identify talent, motivation, desire to succeed, and commitment; and hire for the potential to grow these skills, values and attitudes into the perfect fit for their organization.

“Potential” def: “a latent excellence or ability that may or may not yet be developed” 

Keep and Grow Potential

Building on strengths provides the fastest route to success; and the capability that best predicts future success is the ability to learn.

This awareness is the essence of a flourishing number of organizations that have embedded coaching into their culture as a strategic business driver and critical talent management tool to attract and retain high potential employees.

Growing internal capacity through coaching fosters empowerment, enhanced employee skills, satisfaction, success, attraction and retention according to BC Hydro, one of B.C.’s top employers with more than 5,000 employees throughout the province.

“Since 2005, BC Hydro has incorporated coaching skills training as part of our leadership and professional development programs,” says Michelle Robindell, CHRP, ACC and Senior Human Resources Advisor. In 2012, the internal Coaching Program was piloted with 14 coaches. Demand grew rapidly and there are now 68 trained internal coaches—leaders from across the organization who are committed to building a coaching culture and supporting managers and employees in being as effective as possible.

“The coaching program has had a positive impact on our employees’ performance, engagement and leadership,” says Robindell. “Having been recognized by the International Coaching Federation as a CoachingWise organization is reinforcing a sense of pride for coaching program participants, and helps BC Hydro to continue being an Employer of Choice.”

Empowered Employees Live Up to their Potential

Employees are the cornerstone of our organization says September Dixon, VP of Human Resources at Sunshine Coast Credit Union. “These are the people who make our vision a reality, and as part of our strategy to attract and retain top talent, we’ve incorporated coaching into the workplace at all levels,” Dixon says.

Serving more than15,000 members along the Sunshine Coast, Dixon credits coaching with helping to create a collaborative work environment where employees know they are valued and seek opportunities to challenge their professional growth.  Since last spring when the Credit Union received a CoachingWise designation, Sunshine Coast has promoted its commitment to coaching through job ad postings and been told having a coaching culture is highly desirable to candidates.

“CoachingWise offers credibility and can help set us apart as an Employer of Choice,” Dixon confirms. “It’s confirmation that we are using coaching as a tool to bring out the full potential in our employees.”

I’d Like a Coaching Culture, With a Side of Staff Empowerment

In 2008, JOEY Restaurants embraced building a coaching culture and trained top leaders and executives to become internal coaches and trainers skilled in developing other leaders’ coaching skills. The goal was to shift the company’s focus toward developing a “leader as coach” model.

JOEY measures the return-on-investment in coaching through a significant growth of the company’s revenues, profits and market penetration, along with reduced management turnover rates.  With approximately 4,000 employees at 30 locations, JOEY thrives in the competitive restaurant and hospitality sector, attracting candidates eager to contribute their innovative ideas.

“Our new chefs and general managers are often in their mid to late 20’s,” says Kathryn Oliver, manager of training and development. “We needed to accelerate the rate at which we could produce leaders, and coaching was a tool we felt could help us achieve this.”

Based on the success of this diverse range of organizations, a strategic new way to find and keep high potential employees is to grow them through advanced people practices that benefit the entire organization’s culture; while living up to the promises you made while getting that potential through the front door.


According to Mind the Gap, a 2013 Workopolis survey, candidates assess potential employers through their own set of metrics including ‘work environment’ (52%) followed by career advancement opportunities “to advance my career and work my way up the ladder” (48%) and work/life balance (48%)

Surveys suggest that “when assessing individuals, 85% to 97% of professionals rely to some degree on intuition…clearly believing they can make the best decision by pondering an applicant’s folder and looking into his or her eyes…(2)” Guess wrong, and it can impact your brand and cost upwards of two and a half times the hire’s salary to replace them, according to the Canada Human Resources Centre’s online ‘turnover calculator’.

Tips for cultivating a pipeline of high potentials(3):

  • Be Clear about the skills, behaviors and characteristics that will matter to your organization in the future.
  • Be Consistent in how you develop talent.
  • Be Creative about the next generation.

1 Identifying High-Potential Talent in the Workplace UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School 2013

2 In Hiring, Algorithms Beat Instinct

3 Are you a High Potential?


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