Should You Tell Employees They’re ‘High Potentials’?

Cindy, the CEO of a rapidly expanding global software organization, needed to aggressively identify and develop her next generation of leaders. The organization had succession planning programs in place, but couldn’t develop leaders quickly enough to keep pace with their growth.

“Is transparency the right strategy for your organization?”

The chief human resource officer (CHRO) suggested transparency, telling high potentials the company was making substantial investments to help elevate their careers. The CHRO believed transparency would solidify commitment and boost motivation among top talent, and eliminate prospects that weren’t the right fit. Cindy discussed this with her leadership team and was surprised at the leaders’ strong—and divided—reactions.

The team made key points about the positives of transparency:

  • Securing increased commitment. By telling high potentials they have promising futures within the company, they’ll be more invested in its success.
  • Boosting retention, motivation and commitment among the ‘chosen’ employees. Knowing they’re poised to elevate within the company means they’ll stay loyal to the organization and work hard to succeed there.
  • Determining who will (and won’t) be a good long-term fit. Some leaders tell high performers their status, weeding out those without the maturity to handle that candor. If employees become overconfident or obnoxious after learning they’re high potential, it can lead to their demise, leaving room for other talented prospects to advance instead.
David Brookmire ( is an executive advisor, researcher, author and leadership effectiveness coach, who has advised such companies as The Cheesecake Factory, Darden Restaurants, Bekaert, Mckesson, Flowers Foods, Pitney Bowes, and Frito-Lay. Additionally, he offers strategic direction in building organizational capabilities, merger and acquisition success, and improved leader and team performance.