Making Employees Aware of Their High Value Is About Responsibility, Not Status

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By Caryn Freeman

Dec. 18 — Should employees be told they have been designated as high-potential? Jim Peters, senior partner and global lead for succession management at Korn Ferry, said the answer is both “yes” and “no.”

He said during a Dec. 16 webinar that organizations should not tell employees because “you are creating an implied contract for promotion.” On the other hand, Peters said, the answer is also yes, but “it's what you tell an employee about that designation that is most critical.”

“You don't want to communicate an elite status,” Peters said during “Your High-Potential Leaders: Tell or Don’t Tell,” sponsored by global talent management consulting firm Korn Ferry. “What you want to communicate are responsibilities. Explain that being in a high-potential succession plan is a challenge and they are going to be given more difficult things to do.”

Cori Hill, global lead for high-potential leadership development at Korn Ferry, said that generally, organizations do not tell employees for two basic reasons: they don't want to see a slump in productivity and they don't want employees to develop a sense of entitlement.

“When you differentiate employees by performance and potential, those very valuable employees who are not in high-potential categories are demotivated,” Hill said. Moreover, she said, “telling an employee that they are considered high-potential might lead to unrealistic expectations.”

Hill recommended applying a talent-development strategy with consistent practices across the organization, having the right criteria for nominating high-potential employees and identifying them correctly.

“Before you tell high-potential employees of that status, answer the question ‘what do you mean by high-potential?' Then institute talent review processes that are clear, targeted towards development and are not simply evaluations. Have those policies in place and have clear communication standards,” she said.

Hill said she believes what keeps the question “to tell or not to tell” alive is not having standardized, transparent processes. “So building in that infrastructure, that common practice and the common ability to talk to all of your employees about talent development is what allows you to move into that transparent phase,” she said. Transparency about talent development strategies has a positive effect on engagement and can improve retention, Hill added.

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To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Nadel at