As current senior leaders leave the workplace to retire, strategic organizations are actively identifying high potential leaders using mentoring programs to get them ready to fill those vacated executive roles.  The ever-increasing nature of business globalization creates an environment of volatility, complexity, and uncertainty.  These factors create the need to leverage high talent individuals into leadership positions to lead teams through constant change that is here to stay. 

According to Statista, approximately 70% of the workforce is made up of GenXers and Millennials, while only 6% of the Baby Boomer employees are still working.  The leadership gap could not be more obvious.  According to the Harvard Business Review, companies tend to think of high potential employees (HiPos) as the top 3-5% of their talent.  These individuals can be identified readily as they deliver strong results, master new types of expertise, recognize that behavior counts and have a drive to excel and an advanced learning capability.  But will that 3-5% be sufficient to fill the large number of vacated management positions?                                                                                                                                                                                         

Nearly every organization recognizes the value of HiPos.  These individuals display motivation, ability, and organizational commitment to rise and succeed in senior positions.  Research has shown that HiPo employees work 21% harder than their peers and bring 91% more value to the organization than non-HiPos.  The International Coach Federation reports that 80% of people who receive coaching demonstrate increased self-confidence.  91% of individuals who have a mentor report being satisfied with their job.  Companies with strong coaching cultures tend to have better-engaged employees, which leads to higher job satisfaction.  One of the best ways to accomplish this is to offer mentoring and leadership coaching programs, which are the two most unmet needs of HiPos.  Though talented, HiPos need the resources to build skills they need for the job, as well as the space to make mistakes, receive feedback and learn at their own pace.  Keep in mind that while it is good to be stretched in a role, being asked to do too much without enough support will inevitably led to low morale.

Given these statistics, it is obvious that retaining HiPos should be an elemental charge within every organization that desires to grow and continue to succeed.  Keep in mind, however, that not all HiPos yearn for a leadership role.  There are too many instances where highly talented individuals fail in their new role because they did not have the qualities and capabilities of moving from an individual contributor role to that of a leader.  Be certain you have selected the right set of HiPos for leadership roles.

But simply setting up a mentoring program does not necessarily create the vehicle to close that vacancy gap.  In fact, 73% of HiPo development initiatives to identify these individuals fail due to lack of planning and not offering the correct types of challenges and opportunities for the professional growth they seek.  One mistake organizations make is that they put the full burden of identifying HiPos on the shoulders of HR.  But the largest variable in this poor result is that 95% of organizations are ineffective at following through on action plans designed to help HiPos develop for new roles.  Instead, companies should cultivate a culture where potential is recognized within functional departments where HiPos may find impactful mentoring relationships earlier in their career.  Cross-functional programs or peer groups are especially effective at this stage of HiPo development, for it gives mentees the opportunity to gain an appreciation for the organization’s strategic goals and to form meaningful relationships with co-workers throughout the company through a structured job rotation element.  The most effective high-potential mentorship programs create an opportunity for the identified individual to receive guidance, support, sponsorship, and an opportunity to practice learned skills, which result in a more sustainable leadership talent pipeline and increased retention of key talent.

While viewed as “self-starters,” HiPos can be particularly susceptible to a lack of confidence since they have high levels of self-awareness and are more likely to hone in on their areas of weakness.  Mentoring and coaching programs can help them work through these internal obstacles and help them live up to their full potential. 

Research has found that a lack of developmental opportunities is a common reason behind an employee’s decision to leave their company.  This is particularly true of HiPos.  A mentor or coach can present opportunities for growth by identifying areas for improvement, helping navigate new projects or roadblocks, and supporting the development of new skills.  Coaching has helped 70% of HiPos benefit from improved relationships and more effective communication skills.  Without these improvement opportunities, HiPos are likely to become unfulfilled in their work and leave. So, investing in their success with resources like coaches and mentors increase the chances that they’ll stay with the company.

To ensure a higher likelihood of success in introducing mentoring in your organization is to have a team of company leaders who are program sponsors.  Have specific goals set for the program that will meet your business objective?  And make sure those goals are measurable.  Incorporate meaningful, project-based challenges in which individuals can apply their learning to solve real-life issues for the organization.  Expose participants to senior leadership as well as subject matter experts.  Expose participants to all functions of the organization to build a strong contextual vision for the company.  On-the-job training is the most powerful means of transferring knowledge and skills. 

The case can be made that everyone in the organization can benefit from coaching or mentoring. (Remember that 3-5%?)  Building a culture of mentorship can provide support, develop talent, inspire commitment and engagement, improve retention and foster an environment of continuous learning.  This broader approach to mentoring and coaching can help build a more diverse group of leaders and a more engaged employee population.

The One Page Business Plan can be a powerful tool in helping you align your mentoring program with the company’s mission and vision through the creation of strategies, objectives, and action plans specifically geared toward this strategic imperative.  But as with every business plan, implementation and thoughtful evaluation of your program’s success is essential to ensure that your investment pays the dividends sought!