HBR’s May 2010 cover article touts a provocative finding:

1 in 4 “high potential” leaders intend to leave their companies within a year.

When I saw that finding, I both raised my eyebrows and nodded my head.  In some ways, it’s surprising that up-and-coming leaders would jump ship just as the economy is beginning to pull out of the Great Recession. You might think that all of the uncertainty surrounding the recovery (speed?, double dip?) would lead people to hold their hands.

But a side comment from a senior leader at a recent strategy session – and my own experience – made me realize that some people will play their hands aggressively now.  We were discussing the long-term trends and current business condition of this high-growth organization.  Out of the back of the room – and barely heard during the discussion – a leader looked at me and said:

The trouble is that the good people are the ones you lose at moments like these…

So true.  The law most of us have learned over the years is that highly talented people are among the first to jump because they have options and they have strong belief that they can contribute in other organizations.  Oh yes, and they have very high expectations.

So what can we do?  The authors of the HBR article have several suggestions (click here to access the article).  A while back, my colleague Leslie Miller and I published an article in The Journal of Leadership Studies (click here to get our article) aimed at helping talent-dependent organizations discover their strengths and weaknesses at attracting and retaining talent.  Besides being a whopping example of poor timing (the article came out when wave after wave of talented workers were losing their jobs!), the article suggests seven indicators of an organization’s ability to keep cranking out great talent.

Among the seven indicators we suggested were:

  1. Recruitment success (or yields) – do people accept our offers?
  2. Recruitment quality – do our new hires meet or exceed expectations of customers and managers?
  3. Promotion success – do newly promoted associates predictably excel in new roles?
  4. Promotion velocity – do rising leaders see a rapid and feasible path for advancement?

Regardless of what indicators you use, capable talent is almost always a significant limiting factor for high-growth organizations.  Leaders who own the issue (vs. hoping HR will figure it out) have a much better chance of achieving their ambitious growth goals.  With the economy opening up some, that may be more true now than ever.

What reactions do you have to the indicators Leslie and I outlined? What did we miss? I’d be interested in hearing from you!