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Don’t Lose Your High Potentials to Another Team

By Stephanie Neal

Stephanie Neal

There’s no doubt that Billy Beane, the subject of the best-selling book and movie Moneyball, helped revolutionize the game of baseball. As the general manager of the Oakland Athletics, he used data and metrics to make talent decisions at a time when other teams’ managers and scouts relied on instinct and experience to identify promising new players. His approach was a success in picking up overlooked talent, and it turned the A’s into a team capable of competing with the biggest names in the sport, but with one big problem: turnover. The A’s approach found them the talent they needed to increase their wins, yet they couldn’t hang onto their valuable players.

How can you do better than Moneyball when it comes to your high-potential talent? Focus on retention. Once you have a system for identifying the leaders who are likely to make the strongest contribution to your organization, and who you likewise plan to dedicate the biggest proportion of resources to, you face the dilemma of recruiting too many or too few players into your program.

To help identify what size pool maximizes high-potential retention, we examined Global Leadership Forecast 2014|2015 responses from more than 6,300 high-potential leaders. We found that organizations with a larger pool of high potentials (35+ percent) risk lower levels of engagement and retention (by 33 percent) than those with a more moderately sized pool (with 15 to 30 percent high potentials), likely because resources are being spread too thin across a larger number of leaders. Crowding the pool increases the risk of turnover, but even worse is having too small a number of high potentials. Organizations with the fewest high-potential leaders (5 to 10 percent) had the poorest retention and engagement rates of all (45 percent lower than the middle group).


Having too few leaders in a program might not seem like a problem, but chances are if the program is too small, it isn’t getting the support it needs. High-potential leaders who indicated their programs were weakly supported were twice as likely to indicate an intention to leave their organization within 12 months (16 percent), whereas only eight percent of those with strongly supported programs (half as many) did.

Organizations with strongly supported programs do more for high-potentials—in fact, we found that those with higher-quality programs are more likely to do these three things:

  1. Collect objective assessment data on high potentials’ capabilities, potential, and readiness
  2. Have a mentoring/coaching program for high-potential leaders
  3. Carefully evaluate high potentials’ performance in developmental assignments

It’s no surprise that each of these practices matter in building a sustainable and successful high-potential program. As we’ve learned from the Oakland A’s example, having a great system for identifying high potentials is not enough. Like Billy Beane did, you should use smarter data and metrics to scout and develop your high-potential talent, but you need to continue to monitor and support your most valuable players in order to hang onto them.

Stephanie Neal is a research associate for the Center for Analytics and Behavioral Research (CABER).

Read more about managing the high-potential dilemma.

Posted: 15 Jan, 2015,
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