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10 Ways to Develop High-Potential Startup Employees

10 Ways to Develop High-Potential Startup Employees

In the quest to identify and develop high-potential employees for future leadership roles, we sought insights from a range of professionals, including Talent Directors, CEOs, and HR Managers. From encouraging problem-solving presentations to fostering accountability and inclusion, here are ten strategies these industry leaders recommend for startups to build their future leadership teams.

  • Encourage Problem-Solving Presentations
  • Recommend Project Ownership
  • Seek High Drive and Adaptability
  • Promote Autonomous Learning
  • Implement Systematic Talent Development
  • Assign Challenging Roles for Skill Development
  • Adopt a Comprehensive Approach for HIPOs
  • Utilize 360-Degree Feedback
  • Align Aspirations with Company Vision
  • Foster Accountability and Inclusion

Encourage Problem-Solving Presentations

Provide opportunities for them to present a recommendation to the leadership team on a real problem the startup is facing. The proposal should be the result of some research the individual needs to conduct using both qualitative and quantitative methods.

Cheryl Smith, Director of Talent and Performance, Kyndryl

Recommend Project Ownership

At QBench, there are core company initiatives and there are department functions. Beyond that, there are a number of free-floating independent projects just waiting for an owner. 

When someone shows initiative, we recommend taking on an additional project to do something new for the business. Taking the initiative is the first step. Watching the employee work through the project and get to a good resolution is a good gauge of their future potential.

Trevor Ewen, COO, QBench

Seek High Drive and Adaptability

One way for a startup to identify and develop high-potential employees is to pay close attention to people’s hunger and drive. As the president of a medical device company, I always say that if someone is motivated, passionate, and has a desire to succeed, then that’s the type of person I want on my team. 

It’s okay if they’ve never sold a medical device. I can teach them how to sell our manufacturers’ products, but what I can’t teach them is gumption. And for me, that’s the most important part. 

So look for people with a high drive quotient. People who are able to dive headfirst into a challenge, make adaptations easily, and have a hunger to succeed but are also not afraid to fail. Those are key qualities in a strong leadership team.

John Mooney, President, IML

Promote Autonomous Learning

It’s crucial that you provide autonomy over how high-potential employees and senior leadership can approach personal development. 

Yes, they still need to develop professionally in line with PDPs like all employees, however, a great method for retention and development is to take that extra step to prompt autonomous learning based on how they want to develop within their role.

Tracey Beveridge, HR Director, Personnel Checks

Implement Systematic Talent Development

One effective way for a startup to identify and develop its high-potential employees (HIPOs) is by implementing a talent development program. This program should include a systematic process for identifying individuals with high potential based on their performance, skills, and leadership qualities. 

The startup can utilize performance evaluations, feedback from managers, and assessments to identify employees who consistently demonstrate exceptional performance and exhibit the potential to take on leadership roles.

Once identified, these HIPOs can be provided with tailored development opportunities and experiences that align with the startup’s future leadership needs. This may involve assigning them to cross-functional projects, providing them with challenging assignments, and offering opportunities for learning and growth through workshops, seminars, and mentorship programs. It’s important to create a supportive and inclusive environment that encourages these individuals to take risks.

Sai Blackbyrn, CEO, Coach Foundation

Assign Challenging Roles for Skill Development

To nurture HIPOs, startups can assign them to projects or roles that stretch their abilities and expose them to new challenges. These opportunities allow HIPOs to gain valuable experience, build their skill set, and demonstrate their capacity to handle increased responsibility. 

By pushing HIPOs out of their comfort zones, startups can help them develop the agility and resilience needed for future leadership roles.

Marco Genaro Palma, Co-founder, TechNews180

Adopt a Comprehensive Approach for HIPOs

Any startup should first have an understanding of its short-term business strategy and map out a potential long-term one. Do keep external factors in play and be ready to pivot when necessary.

Once this has been outlined, work with the talent teams on identifying significant positions that will drive business growth. For founding roles, curate a strong recruiting process that focuses on delivering a positive experience. 

Be very deliberate about bringing each individual on board. Aim to find and attract those who showcase high potential characteristics.

Once employees are on board via a well-designed onboarding process, a yearly professional and personal development plan should be drafted that focuses on the individual’s deliverables & goals. Managers should be empowered to run this process and hold consistent 1:1s that focus on these two categories.

If executed correctly, alongside succession planning, identifying future leadership team members should be a smooth ride.

Nina Xue, Head of People

Utilize 360-Degree Feedback

360-degree feedback democratizes the appraisal process by incorporating performance ratings from colleagues, managers, direct reports, and other stakeholders. This represents a far more comprehensive perspective on performance than is normally provided by top-down manager-only reviews, increasing the probability of identifying high-potential employees.

Not only does 360-degree feedback help identify top performers, but the data collected also helps inform professional development plans. For example, if a high-potential employee scores comparatively low on teamwork or any other specific competency, this information could help structure their development moving forward.

Consequently, the data collected through 360-degree feedback can be invaluable when working with high-potential employees and should be strongly considered by all startup leaders.

Chloe Yarwood, HR Manager, Test Partnership

Align Aspirations with Company Vision

One way to spot high-potential employees (HIPOs) is to talk. Talk about their long-term career goals. Listen to how they respond. This gives insight into their potential. It also hints at their future roles. 

HIPOs want more than just their current job. They have ambition. They desire bigger roles. Use these conversations to align their aspirations with the company’s vision. It’s not just about identifying talent. It’s also about nurturing it. This is a key step in building your future leadership team.

Amar Ghose, CEO, ZenMaid

Foster Accountability and Inclusion

As the business grows and becomes stable, the best thing to do is to make sure that the employees feel like they have a stake in the company’s success. 

Giving them a sense of ownership, and including them in major decisions can make them feel more committed to their work and the company itself. This is a way to identify and develop high-potential employees so they become a part of the future leadership team.

Matthew Ramirez, CEO, Paraphrasing Tool

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