Congratulations! You’ve been identified as a “High Potential.” Now What?

iStock_000014038693XSmallBy Gabrielle Rapke Hoffman (Sao Paulo, Brazil)

According to Harvard Business Review, companies identify 3-5% of their workforce as “High Potential.” If you have made that list, congratulations! You likely have outstanding technical expertise and an aptitude for strategic thinking. You probably have already delivered strong results, succeeded in various roles, and sought ways to improve processes and efficiency. Although making the list is an achievement in and of itself, it is only the first step. Now, as your journey as a “High Potential” begins, what steps should you take to position yourself for realizing that potential?

Anticipate that “soft” skills will increase in importance. A common mistake is assuming that the same skill set, approach, and behaviors that led you to be named a “High Potential” will also lead to further advancement. Your technical skill, strong work ethic, and strategic thinking will likely allow you to continue excelling in your current job, or to make lateral moves. However, additional competencies may be necessary to reach the next level – ones you may need to work on developing. For instance, as ”High Potential” candidates are considered for promotions and stretch assignments, ”soft” skills such as influencing, delegating, networking, and leadership become more important than technical expertise. According to INSEAD, these all-important shifts are “common traps” for women as they transition to senior management. To successfully make these transitions, it is essential to be self-aware and make a conscious effort to hone the new competencies that will be needed as you strive to advance in your organization.

Create a written career plan, commit to it, and hold yourself accountable. This advice applies not only to “High Potentials,” but to all goal-setting. While most of us have been drilled on goal-setting since high school, many do not take its importance to heart. In fact, 90% of the population does not have written goals. As an ambitious “High Potential,” it will serve you well to reflect on what your goals are and to list tactical actions you can take to achieve them over the short, medium, and long term. Once you determine your target role, identify the gaps in your resume that you need to fill to be able to reach that position. Although this may seem like a daunting task at first, start out by getting the basics on paper. Then, continue to improve your career plan over time. You will get the most out of being a “High Potential” by continuing to invest in improving both your technical and “soft” skills, as guided by the goals outlined in your career plan.

Take control of your next career move. Many individuals may assume that the designation as a “High Potential” on an HR alone list will create opportunities. Although some opportunities may come to you, you can increase the likelihood of achieving your goals if you take control of your career. Start networking across divisions and seek projects that increase your visibility. Do all you can to get on the radar of senior leaders who will keep you in mind for a new role before the position officially opens. If you position yourself to be the “slated” candidate for a key role, you will be in a much better place than if you wait for a role to open up and you happen to be one of many applicants.

As you evaluate different positions for your next move, consider not only the position itself, but what subsequent assignments it could lead to. As a designated “High Potential”, you may be in demand among various groups at your company. When you are targeting a new opportunity, analyze the medium- and long-term career benefits of each option carefully. Look at the career progression of others who have worked in roles similar to the one you are considering. Where are they now? Think about the gaps on your resume that you will need to fill to become a strong candidate for your target position. Will the role you are considering fill some of those gaps? Although it may be difficult to decline a position that seems exciting, if the position does not help you progress toward your specific career goals, it may be best to keep looking.

If you have been identified as a “High Potential,” remember that you are only part of the way to achieving your career goals. Keep these recommendations in mind as you design your strategy and navigate the transitions on your journey toward achieving your full potential as a professional.