In the war for talent, identifying and nurturing the bright young things under your nose is not just a strategic manoeuvre, it's your lifeblood. Fail in this and your most promising people will achieve their potential elsewhere, leaving you with a vacuum at the top of your organisation.
But where to start?
Do it once a year. Most big companies operate an annual talent review as part of the planning cycle. It takes time to get people ready to take on the big roles, so if you're looking for a senior manager to be appointed in two years' time, you need to be working on them now.
Bring on the scouts. Line managers are the best-placed people to spot talent, says Lucy McGee, a director of HR consultancy DDI. 'Historically, HR has tried to own the process, but the guys at the edge of the pitch are the best placed to identify tomorrow's stars.' Nevertheless, she points out, line managers need to be acutely aware that they don't own the talent in their department - the organisation does.
Identify the X-factors. 'Current performance doesn't always predict future potential,' says Dr Maria Yapp, MD of business psychologists Xancam. 'Today's high performers are not always tomorrow's stars.' Success in their current role may be a prerequisite for fast-tracking someone, but additional qualities are usually sought. 'We look for judgment, drive and an ability to influence others,' says Kylie Bains of organisation change consultancy YSC. DDI looks for people who are good at learning, can master complexity, want to lead, and who balance passion for results with their values.
Look to the future. 'Don't assess high potentials for what you need now or what has worked in the past - think about the business's future needs,' says Yapp. IBM used to make computers, now it's all about services.
Evaluate your assets. Once you've conducted your trawl, establish just how good the chosen few really are. Role-playing, psychometric tests and 360-degree appraisals are often used. 'It's a detailed diagnosis of where the gaps are between where the person is now and where you want them to be in a couple of years' time,' says McGee.
Fast forward. The next job is to create an accelerated development plan that brings them up to speed in the required areas. They'll need extensive support.
Keep it open. If the process is secretive, people will think it's unfair.
You don't have to broadcast every line manager's recommendations, but make your talent management policy transparent.
Don't write anyone off. 'It's largely a question of readiness,' says McGee. Some high-flyers are just a bit slower to take off.
Do say: 'We want to give our brightest and best every chance to lead this organisation in the future.'
Don't say: 'Anyone who's any good will get to the top eventually, anyway.
They don't need us to help them.'