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Many Companies Avoid Term "High Potentials"

Contact:Jennifer Jones
[email protected]

New York 10/29/2013

Many companies avoid using the term “high potentials” for individuals selected for career development and advancement opportunities, according to a survey of more than 450 organizations by AMA Enterprise, a division of American Management Association.

“Just one-quarter of companies now employ the term, but as many as 42% won’t use ‘high potentials,’ and certainly not in communications with employees,” said Sandi Edwards, Senior Vice President of AMA Enterprise, which provides organizations with assessment, measurement and tailored learning solutions. “What's more, another 18% say they’re sensitive to the overtones but haven’t found a better term.”

It has been suggested that “high potentials” is no longer a helpful term. How do you regard the term?

We have no problem using “high potentials” to describe our program.


We are aware of the negative connotation of “high potentials” but have yet to find a better term.


We do not use “high potentials.”


Don’t know/Does not apply.


“If only certain individuals are identified as ‘high potentials,’ where does that leave the rest of the employees,” asked Edwards. “Unfortunately, the term itself suggests most employees may not have much potential, and this isn’t a healthy message for either them or the organization in general.”

Another dimension to the issue, believes Edwards, is the appearance of exclusivity. “Of course, people who aren’t selected may feel excluded or passed over. There’s understandable resentment and the perception that the program itself is not fair.”

The survey asked respondents about employees’ attitude toward selection for their high potential program. Only 14% regard their program as fair and even-handed.

In your opinion, how is selection for the high potentials programs seen by employees?

As fair and even-handed


As flawed, but well-intentioned


As partial and political


Don’t know


According to Edwards, the wide perception of unfairness has no easy or quick solution. “No matter how open or equitable a career development program may be, there will always be those who think it’s elitist. That goes with the territory. Nevertheless, it’s the job of those who administer these initiatives to do all they can to communicate widely and clearly about opportunities, for selection criteria to be clear and applied uniformly, and for there to be ample development alternatives. This balancing act may be one of the most daunting challenges faced by HR and development professionals today.”

The survey was conducted July 15 to August 3, and respondents consisted of 453 senior-level business, human resources, management professionals and employee contacts drawn from the AMA database of contacts.

With more than 90 years’ experience and headquartered in New York, American Management Association is a global leader of comprehensive talent development. AMA Enterprise, a specialized division of AMA dedicated to building corporate and government learning and training solutions, transforms enterprise-wide talent to fuel innovation, high performance and optimal business results.

Media Contacts: Phil Ryan, 845-339-7858, [email protected]

AMA is one of the most widely recognized leaders in business training, having provided corporate training solutions for over 95 years. From leadership, communication and managerial training to sales, customer service and analytical skills, AMA has developed a vast array of content and training solutions to help individuals and organizations achieve business results . Each year, AMA delivers thousands of seminars and courses across the United States. With courses offered in a  classroom near you or live online, AMA is a flexible, convenient resource for all of your organization's talent development needs. AMA also offers customized solutions based on your specific talent development requirements.