According to a 2011 study by Harvard Business School, only 15 percent of companies in North America believe that they have enough qualified successors for key positions. Is your company one of the 85 percent that will face a shortage of talent for key positions in the coming years?

How can you ensure your company is ready? Develop the talent you already have.

Development cannot be solely an HR or training function. Alignment must come from the top down and across all areas of the company. Influencing business operators to see the benefits of investing in a long-term development program will be necessary for all support roles. The reduced turnover, lower recruiting and training costs, and deeper engagement will only serve to fund the growth of your best people.

Involving the business unit leaders in all stages of talent development, including specific follow-up roles, is vital to creating commitment to the success of your company’s programs. These team members are your foundation for exceptional long-term results.

Most organizations have some way of identifying their high potential associates, but identifying talent alone is not enough. The following four steps will help your company create a culture that fosters and grows potential into quality leaders for the future.

1. Implement a Formal Identification Process

Make it an annual or twice-yearly event in which all areas of your organization can participate simultaneously. It needs to be a simple yet thorough process that business unit leaders can calibrate to identify their top performers. The criteria should be well-rounded. Avoid using only financial or performance metrics; include the behaviors that represent your company values and the competencies required for future initiatives.

Ensure that everyone knows what the criteria are and how people are identified as high potential. Make this identification something people aspire to achieve . Once selected, ensure they are formally told that they have been identified and the specific reasons why. This process serves as recognition of the hard work and commitment they have already shown.

2. Build a Personal Development Plan

Identifying your high potentials should jumpstart the process for their individual growth. Begin the discussion about their long-term goals. Assign a mentor to work directly with them on their development. Capture the actions and steps they will take to continue their progression. Identify what they are already doing for themselves and incorporate that development as well. Define what success looks like, the competencies for the next level and a time frame for each step’s completion. Schedule regular update meetings to discuss what they are learning, how they are applying it and why it matters for future roles.

3. Challenge Them

Give your high potential talent new and unique opportunities. Assign them bigger, more meaningful projects as they become available. Invite them to meetings or discussions, and ask for their input. Expose them to situations that will stretch and engage them to think in innovative ways. Debrief after these sessions to understand their takeaways and progress.

4. Establish a High Potential Program

Build high-potential talent groups to expose them to other top performers outside their day-to-day work areas. Create an environment for these groups to share ideas, their learning and successes. These groups are an excellent way to show that you see them as different from other associates. Establish six- to 12-month development programs that hit on key leadership or competency topics. Tailor the groups and programs based on development need and current level. Create a system that allows for ongoing growth and graduation to higher courses of learning. The use of external resources can be a wise investment for these programs, especially if your company does not have the internal resources to support them. A third-party firm can also provide insights and connections from outside the immediate industry to further round out your best players.

The benefits are numerous for having a process for identifying your high-potential talent, building a development plan, exposing them to new areas and including them in a dedicated program for their growth. These top associates will recognize your commitment to them and reward you with deeper engagement, long-term loyalty and higher productivity. Solidify your company outlook and fill your future key positions with quality leaders.

What are you doing to support your highest potential talent?