When high potential leaders or top employee talent leave your team to go to what they perceive as “greener pastures”, it can feel like a divorce between two married people that were once in love with each other, right?

From the employer perspective, raw emotions, concerns about the ability to back-fill the position, and distress about other business matters at stake can run a muck in your head.

Over the years of me interviewing and coaching thousands of high potential individuals in corporations, I have come to realize that there is one core reason that ignited their search for new job opportunities: It was the lack of transparency and clear communication between them and their leadership about realistic future career advancement & compensation expectations, now that they were bestowed the title of “high potential”.

Many employees felt the status achievement was the end game vs the start of a long journey to prove their capabilities. Quite a few felt that a promotion or new opportunity was in the queue to be presented to them shortly. And when that did not happen, frustration and disappointment set in.

They thought they had already demonstrated their value. And they had . . . in their current role.

The key misunderstanding was around the fact that they did not realize that they had not fully demonstrated their value for roles of larger scope or responsibility. The high potentials did not realize that the title of “high potential” was just the entrance fee to getting into the race, and that there was a full marathon of capability development ahead.

Where organizations frequently miss the boat is that they do not take the time to outline the rules of the game to their HiPo talent, as it relates to demonstrating differentiated performance at a higher scale. As a result of this missed step, countless hours are spent scratching their heads, wondering why they are not seeing increased strength of their leadership bench.

When working with my clients on augmenting their high potential leadership programs, I frequently suggest they consider incorporating a document at the launch of the program, called a HiPo Memo of Understanding (HiPo MoU).

A HiPo MoU is like marriage prenup agreement, where a common understanding of the terms of the development strategy for the employee are expressed in writing.

The HiPo MoU includes topics such as:
• Current strengths and capabilities of the employee
• Prioritized areas of opportunity for improvement on which to focus
• 6-18 month development goals of the employee
• Short term action plan, including milestones, of what development activities should be completed in the next 6 months
• How the manager and/or company will provide a supportive development environment for the employee
• Statement of no guarantees of promotions or forward movement
• Date(s) of follow-up conversations on progress against development gaps and potential next steps

A HiPo MoU is a new strategy for many companies, and I’ve found that leaders frequently wonder how effective a MoU can really be. Some have even told me that it is a bit scary to embrace that level of transparency.

In reality, our research and clients have discovered that the MoU actually serves as a prime HiPo retention tool, because both parties gain a comfort level that they are fully aware of the mutual expectations and protecting themselves if there is a misunderstanding in the future or if leadership changes hands.

GreetingI encourage you to take time to consider the concept and customize the HiPo MoU to fit your company’s culture. Remember to include statements regarding the length of terms of the MoU (I recommend a 12 month term, which can be revised and renewed only upon confirmation as a high potential the following year).

Also remember to add statements about how disputes can be resolved, if they occur. It can be as simple as a joint meeting with HR, Talent Development, and/or a senior leader.


Be proactive in reducing the bad attrition of your most valuable human capital assets- your high potential talent. Need to brainstorm as to how? We would be honored to consult with you on best practices to create or augment your high potential development strategies and programs.