Does Your Agency Have a Plan for High Potential Employee Flight Risk?


In our last blog, we discussed the importance of developing a strong leadership bench by shaping the right employees into future leaders with targeted training and succession planning. High-performing agencies not only have great talent but also know how their new leaders will transfer through the ranks of the agency.

However, once you have identified your list of “High Potentials,” or employees with the abilities and potential to be successful leaders within your agency, your work is far from over. It is critical that you retain these employees and continue to help them grow with your agency. After all, you are investing time and money into them. If they leave, not only are they taking with them valuable training and experience, but also the agency suffers an opportunity cost from losing a future leader.

Identify Employee Flight Risks

It’s important for agencies to be aware and equipped to act when staff members show early warnings signs of leaving the agency. By taking an analytical approach, you can identify leading indicators of high-potential employees that are a flight risk. Using an efficient human resources (HR) system, for example, you can track basic employee information to identify commonalities among those who depart. If you’re early enough, you can intervene before they leave.

Indicators could include:

  • Keeping strange hours
  • Uncharacteristically bad attitudes
  • Having a poor relationship with a manager
  • Low satisfaction or FEVS scores
  • Disengagement in company activities

In fact, advanced predictive analytics can be modeled on historical employee data to arrive at a flight risk score. Just like how banks use credit scores to determine risk of defaulting on loans, an agency can use a flight risk score to identify employees at risk of turning over. What-if scenarios can be used to test assumptions and inform retention action plans. Extra attention should be given to retaining your high-potential employees.

Implement Your Retention Action Plan

Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Agencies that proactively manage retention instead of reacting to every departure reap huge dividends. If you’ve noticed any of the behaviors above, it may be time to take significant steps to retain your top employees and ensure they continue growing with your agency.

Actions you need to consider:

  • Create a personalized learning plan. If the employee shows interest in developing their skills or learning new ones, consider putting together a personalized plan and offering them tailored training and development programs. This could also include goals and milestones to accomplish.
  • Provide ongoing feedback. Regular discussions between managers and their employees can make all the difference between an employee staying or going. Without them, you may miss an opportunity to prevent frustrations that result in the loss of a valued employee.
  • Give them a glimpse of their future. Show your high potentials what they can expect as they grow with your agency and highlight some of the upcoming opportunities they can anticipate—it will keep them motivated and engaged.

An unexpected departure of a high-performing staff member is never desirable, but being on the lookout for warning signs can reduce any potential setbacks to the agency’s mission as well as the morale of remaining employees. Also, when early intervention is possible, spotting those possible flight risks may help prevent early staff departures.

An enterprise HR solution can help federal HR practitioners determine employee flight risks early on. It can also assist in meeting employee needs by creating development programs and succession plans to retain top employees and help them grow to be the future leaders of the agency.


George Kettner is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Mark Hammer

One of the under-recognized benefits of having a *real* knowledge transfer plan in place, AND acting on it, is that those with the knowledge get to feel valued. Conversely, one of the significant sources of organizational disruption occurs when a high-value employee leaves *without* having transferred their knowledge to others.

In our employee surveys here in Canada, we find a significant percentage of managers report that they are obliged to backfill vacancies with very short notice. The incumbent says “I’m starting a new position in X weeks. Have a nice life.” and the manager can’t possibly fill the position with sufficient speed to have the new hire job-shadow the departing employee. I’m sure this pattern is not unique to the folks we survey, but common to all organizations.

All of which means that knowledge transfer MUST be an ongoing affair, and not something simply sparked by an impending departure. And, as I suggested above, the sort of consultation involved in such knowledge transfer may well be an important component of retaining high-value employees, who might see themselves as more highly-valued by the organization by that very interaction.

Knowledge transfer is a lot like exercise: make it an ongoing part of your daily routine, and you’ll find yourself having to do less of it as a desperate therapeutic measure later on..


Additional ideas:
Ask the high performer for feedback on how the leader can be a more effective leader and what the company can do to be more successful. High performers are smart people. Tap their expertise.

Ask them about their ideal future with the company. Where would they like to be in the next 1-3 years? How best do they think they can contribute to the companies success? Most high performers value challenge, growth, and contribution. If they have no growth potential, they will likely leave.


I worked for a company who’s job was retention. The best advice they gave was to have supervisors ask their people directly to let them know if they are thinking about leaving. As Mark said in the comments, usually employees don’t let you know until there’s nothing you can do about it.

To your point of ‘giving them a glimpse of the future’, I worked with a team member to develop a year and a half plan for her project. It was really just a simple outline – not a full fledged project plan. I jokingly (but not really) said, “I guess you’ll be with us for at least a year and a half!” Given that she’d only be onboard for about a month, she probably hadn’t really thought about what she’d be doing a year and a half from then. I talk a bit more about this idea here: http://fedability.com/radical-employee-retention-strategy/ I’d love your thoughts!