How to identify and make your high potentials stay

In a world of rapid change, most organisations are not only having to rethink their business strategy, but also the people attributes needed to deliver it. To understand if you have the high potential talent with the distinctive capabilities you need in the future and to make this talent stay, you need to know your people intimately. Here we discuss two approaches to engage in deep talent conversations.


These days, leaders are having more and more conversations with their talent. One-to-one conversations are now a fixture in most calendars. But what is really getting talked about in these regular meetings?

Many of these conversations stick to straightforward topics: what skills does the individual need to develop and what role should they be looking for next. But as we explored in our recent webinar, Reimagining Succession Management, this may not be enough to keep your best talent.

Increasingly, we’re seeing the most successful organisations taking these conversations deeper. Leaders are talking to their people about purpose and finding out what really drives them at work. We call this talent intimacy and we believe it’s essential for helping all employees to reach their potential and engaging your best people for the long term.

What is talent intimacy?

Talent intimacy is about connecting with talent and getting to know them on a deeper, subtler level. It’s about understanding their drivers, motivations, career ambitions and their level of engagement with the organisation.

Intimacy can be a controversial word, but we chose it specifically to convey how important it is to really get to know your people. Because it’s not just about understanding an individual’s work persona, it’s about understanding what their desires are, what their needs are, and their personal circumstances.

Learning from women CEOs

We saw the power of talent intimacy in a study we undertook with a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to better understand women CEOs and what it would take to have a greater representation of women CEOs in our organisations.

We interviewed 57 women CEOs, including nearly all of the current sitting women CEOs for large companies in the USA as well as some former ones. One of the things we found is that relatively few of them – only 12% – said that they knew they wanted to be a CEO. Interestingly, more than half said it never even occurred to them that they could be a CEO until someone, for example a mentor, said to them that they thought the leader could do it.

That’s why it’s so important to check in often with your talent. The capacity and the drive may be there, but unless it is drawn out of an individual, it may remain hidden.

Discarding the labels

Another important aspect of talent intimacy is checking in often and not making any assumptions. We often come across statements about how ‘Rachel won't relocate…’ but if you check in again and test this assumption you may find that Rachel made that statement when her son was in high school. Now her son is at university, yet that label remains. Assumptions are also often made around women with young children, about what they will or will not be willing to do, whether it's relocation or something about the demands of the job.

Some people really want to be part of a team. Some people want to drive a team. Some people like to work independently. Some people want to create and do research. Some want to be more entrepreneurial. There are so many roles in our organisations and it's so important to find each individual’s drivers and match that talent to the roles.

By tapping into what really drives people and understanding their life context, successful organisations are helping their people be their best. And it makes people want to stay.

How to develop talent intimacy when resources are limited

Not all organisations have the resources to have deep talent conversations. One of the things we see leading organisations doing is really differentiating their approach, between high touch and low touch approaches.

  • Low touch: Make career advice available to everyone by posting information online about roles and requirements and providing online learning that creates options and career paths for all. This is something that enables everybody to self-develop.
  • High touch: For your most valued talent, invest in personalised, deeper connection through mentors, internal career experts or their particular manager to really develop the talent intimacy that you need for the critical people in your organisation.

Everyone wants to grow, develop, and succeed. Providing your talent with the chance to reach their potential encourages them to stay.


Learn how to reimagine your succession management program with insights from Korn Ferry experts and their guest from Telstra. Watch the webcast: Reimagining Succession Management.