High Potentials in Flux

A new Korn Ferry paper explores how developing programs keep high-potential talent on board.

Authors: Tom Wrobleski, Emily Gianunzio, Bryn Chighizola

In these uncertain times, where a large portion of the workforce may face layoffs, it's more important than ever for companies to hold onto their top performers. A recent Korn Ferry report reveals just how crucial it is to keep high-potential talent, especially during times of organizational changes.

In 2023, over 1.64 million people in the US lost their jobs, and this number could rise, especially in industries like tech. When companies reorganize or downsize, it often affects high-potential employees the most. But replacing them can be expensive for companies—sometimes costing them up to five times the employee’s yearly salary, according to research.

One way organizations can show they value their top talent is by offering specialized training and development programs. In its new report, “High Potentials in Flux,” Korn Ferry explains how these programs help employees grow their skills and feel supported by their company, which can make them more likely to stay. “As businesses change over time, those that focus on developing their top employees ensure they're ready for whatever comes next,” says Tom Wrobleski, Global Account Lead in Korn Ferry’s Consumer practice and co-lead of its new Supply Chain Talent Optimization offering. “This helps develop future leaders who can tackle tomorrow's challenges with confidence.”

Recently, Korn Ferry teamed up with a global agricultural retail company to create a custom high-potentials program for developing leaders in senior director and director roles. This program brought together high-potential employees in a structured way, fostering a sense of community where they could learn and share experiences.

Success in this program relies on giving these emerging leaders diverse training experiences, covering things like global business trends, money management, and handling tough conversations. Experts say it’s also important for them to be able to apply what they've learned to real situations in their company, reporting to the C-Suite how they’ve put these lessons into practice. “Having support and active involvement from top executives is crucial,” Wrobleski says. “Their time and resources help build trust and connection and show that employee development is a priority for the entire company.” This commitment, he adds, sends a strong message throughout the organization.

The program, detailed in the new Korn Ferry paper, also included peer-to-peer mentorship, where high-potential employees could learn from each other. This built camaraderie and allowed cohorts to share information and knowledge. Korn Ferry found that, combined with cross-functional training, it helped participants connect across the organization.

Indeed, a recent Korn Ferry survey found that, in addition to formal training programs, mentorship and job rotations are also key for helping high-potential employees advance in their careers. This is because a supportive work environment, which includes peer and manager support, significantly influences how well new skills and knowledge learned during training are used on the job, according to Korn Ferry’s research. “Strong work relationships are key to employee retention, and fostering a sense of community among high potentials is a way to utilize that concept and keep them,” says Emily Gianunzio, Research Analyst with the Korn Ferry Institute, Korn Ferry’s research arm.

Looking forward, it's clear that companies need to focus on building a strong foundation for keeping their best employees. By communicating openly, offering specialized training programs, and ensuring a fair process for identifying talent, organizations can set themselves up for success in the long run. “It ensures they have strong leaders ready for the future,” Gianunzio says.