You don’t have to spend big bucks to offer your high performers development and recognition. Here are five effective ways that yield big results.

You know it’s important to invest in your high performers. It lets your people know they are valued and they are more likely to stay with your company. But investing in people is expensive, right?

It doesn’t have to cost a lot to provide development opportunities for those key people on your team. Here are five ways to invest big in your top talent that cost just time and focus.

1. Identify and Tell Them

Define a process to formally identify your high potentials. Then sit down and let them know they’ve been identified as ‘high potential’ and what your plan is to help them develop and succeed at your company.

Recognition as a ‘high potential’ matters. A study by the Center for Creative Leadership found that ‘Formal recognition as a high potential was important to 77% of emerging leaders,’ and fostered their self-perception as leaders.

Without formal recognition, your talent may second guess their abilities and look elsewhere (with the competition) for development and promotion opportunities. Positive feedback, a good track record and informal acknowledgement, while important, are not substitutes for formal identification as a ‘high-potential.’

2. Increase Visibility

Provide your high potentials with visibility and access to senior leaders within the company. Invite them to attend or present at a senior level meeting. Assign them a high-visibility project. Emerging leaders want and need interaction with leadership and benefit from the exposure to a broader business understanding.

One emerging leader said, “Being noticed and looked up to drives me and makes me set high goals for myself.” Isn’t that what you want from your high potentials?

3. Offer Special Assignments

Provide a high profile or ‘stretch’ assignment that will expand their skills, capacity or business expertise of your high potentials.. Maybe it’s cross training in another discipline, presenting on a new product line or marketing campaign, running a department as an interim, etc. Special assignments should increase the capacity of your emerging leaders and expose them to the larger business perspective.

4. Provide a Mentor

High potential leaders benefit from professional support by their boss or another senior leader. Mentoring should provide opportunity for focused dialog on professional development, career challenges, and growth opportunities. Consider pairing emerging leaders with a leader from another part of the organization. This can provide more ‘safety’ for real dialog as well as a broader business perspective.

If you can provide leaders with an executive coach, it’s a worthwhile investment. According to a 2011 Bersin study, organizations whose senior leadership “very frequently” make an effort to coach others have 21% higher business results. Organizations that prepare managers to coach are 33% better at engaging employees and are 130% more likely to realize stronger business results, according to the same study.

5. Increase Their Responsibility

When high potentials are given more responsibility or a greater scope of work, you show they are trusted and valued by the company. It also increases their management and skill development. Perhaps it’s overseeing a new aspect of the business, taking on more premier customer accounts or supervising a larger department. This differs from a stretch assignment as it is a permanent increase in responsibility.

Even when your high potential is taking on more work, it’s usually seen as an opportunity rather than a burden.

The Pay Off

Developing high potentials requires an investment on your part, but it doesn’t have to be expensive. And you can be assured the benefits are worth it. High potentials value – and expect – your investment in their development and their future. Your high potentials are more likely to remain with you and deliver better results. You’ll gain highly equipped and motivated future leaders for your growing business.

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