Coaching Your High Potential People (A Players)

High Potential

Audrey works as a software engineer in a fast growing technology company in Denver. She’s young, smart, and a rising star on her team. She’s got a great attitude that is equally matched with performance. You might call her a “high potential” team member or even an “A” player.

Audrey doesn’t get much attention from her Manager, Merl. Primarily because Merl is off putting out fires caused by Audrey’s peers, Billy and Bobbie (“B” players) and Charlie and Chester (“C” players).

This scenario is all too common in workplaces across the country and not unique to the Denver and Boulder, Colorado markets. Leaders tend to spend 80% of their time with the bottom 20% of performers – often leaving their A Players out to dry. What happens next with people like Audrey is fairly predictable – lower levels of engagement, reduced commitment, and an occasional negative posting on company review sites like

This has to change, or your organization will end up with a staff of all ‘B” and “C” players as your “A” players walk out the door. The question Managers like Merl have is, “I already know how to give feedback to my poor performers, but how do I develop my best team members?”

One idea is to focus on the 3 Cs.

Career pathing: Your A players need to know that there is a potential career path within your organization. There is a direct correlation between their future path and current engagement levels. Take Audrey for example. Her expectation is that someday she’ll move from an individual contributor role on an Agile development team, to a Team Leader role. Her Manager Merl has to be in tune with her interests and goals and collaboratively map out her next career steps.

Coaching: According to a survey conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership, high potentials expect more development, support, and investment. In Audrey’s case, even though she is technically competent and performing at 100% in her current engineering role, she may need to develop her communication and influencing skills to perform effectively as a future Team Leader. Coaching can help close those skill and self-awareness gaps.

Challenging Work: And directly connected to both career pathing and coaching is providing challenging work in the form of developmental roles to help build skills and self-awareness. In Audrey’s case, Merl might have Audrey lead a Tiger Team of 3 people to solve for a specific solution. It offers a relatively risk free opportunity prior to a formal promotion. In addition, Merl can provide real time coaching based on the specific skill and self-awareness gaps that may exist.

Developing your A players is critical to scaling your business and maximizing performance. What are some creative ways in which your organization develops its high potential people?