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Keys to Developing High-Potential Finance Talent

  • By Rachele Collins, Ph.D., and Nathanael Vlachos, Ph.D.
  • Published: 8/15/2018

For best practice organizations, the finance function is evolving beyond its traditional accounting role to become a valuable partner in planning, analysis and strategy. Recognizing that the skillsets required for future finance leaders are changing, these organizations are effectively leveraging high-potential development programs.

High-potential development programs

High-potential development programs are targeted learning and professional growth programs for individuals who have been identified by management as having long-term potential for performing successfully as leaders. For finance, most organizations (81 percent of respondents to a recent APQC survey) feel that such programs are moderately important or very important to develop and retain high-potential finance talent.

Ideally, high-potential development programs are part of a comprehensive suite of learning and retention programs at organizations. While many organizations leverage high-potential development programs as incentives for recruiting new finance talent, these programs are more than a perk. High-potential development programs are a valuable source of training that helps finance professionals continue to mature their skillsets as they prepare for a future in leadership at the organization.  

Elements of a robust high-potential development program

According to APQC’s research, best practice high-potential development programs often include the following key elements:


Through coaching, high-potentials are mentored by top executives to ensure they are succeeding in their skills development and advancing along their career path successfully. For example, as part of its high-potential development program, high-potentials at Ford Motor Co. receive executive coaching as part of the annual Global Leadership Summit, and six additional hours of executive coaching with company leaders outside of the summit. Most APQC survey respondents (85 percent) said that coaching for finance high-potentials is incorporated into talent development programs every time or almost every time.

Job Rotations and Stretch Assignments

Most respondents (89 percent) also note that as part of their organization’s high-potential development program, finance high-potentials are given the opportunity for new jobs and rotational assignments in new locations. For example, as part of their developmental career paths, finance talent at Schneider Electric is expected to progress through new jobs and rotational assignments every three to five years. To progress in their careers, finance leadership talent often rotates across regions, as well as jobs, working in the front office, back office, manufacturing and other sectors. This variety of internal work experience empowers finance leadership talent at Schneider Electric with a more comprehensive view of their organization.

On a related vein, stretch assignments typically place high-potentials in a challenging project or task to help them “stretch” their current knowledge or skills outside of their usual comfort zone. For example, Schneider Electric’s high-potential development program involves training programs, stretch assignments, action learning projects, exposure to senior leaders, accelerated career movements, and targeted apps.

A Focus on Relationship Building and Networking

Relationship building and networking are key objectives of high-potential development programs. Best-practice organizations consistently encourage and provide opportunities for high-potentials to build relationships with other high-potentials, employees and executives to promote collaboration and problem solving. For example, participants of Ford’s high-potential development program gather for up to a week at a time as part of the annual Global Leadership Summit. Participants stay at the same hotel, where they have opportunities to learn about different areas of the business and build personal and professional networks that empower them to resolve cross-regional and cross-unit challenges.

Real-world Cases/Action Learning Projects

Best-practice organizations consistently integrate real-world cases and challenges as an important component of finance talent development. This hands-on experience allows valued finance talent to gain experience while meeting the concrete goals and needs of a company. At Maersk, for example, an entire day of its four-day face-to-face training sessions for finance business partners focused on working on real-world cases using a problem-solving framework.

Action learning is an interactive learning process typically involving small groups collaboratively working on real-world problem solving. At SAS, the early-career high-potential program features an action-learning project and proposal to SAS executives.


Partnerships with external learning and development organizations are also valuable features of high-potential development programs. Colleges, universities, and other organizations can provide targeted training for skills in predictive analytics, modeling, and statistics, as well as more strategic and softer skills. For example, Cardinal Health’s Inspire program, created in partnership with Ohio State University, helps executives develop global and strategic thinking skills in order to drive a more agile and innovative culture.    


The finance leaders of tomorrow need skills that go beyond their traditional expertise in finance and accounting. Best-practice organizations realize that the future of finance is data and tech-driven and leverage high-potential development programs as part of a comprehensive portfolio of career development offerings to empower their high-potential finance talent to lead effectively. Ultimately, finance is a critical support function for all organizations, and finance high-potential development is key to helping organizations attract and retain their valued finance talent and maintain a competitive edge in the marketplace.

Rachele Collins, Ph.D., senior research analyst, and Nathanael Vlachos, Ph.D., are both with APQC.

AFP 2018 has multiple sessions on developing and retaining talent in the Career Development track. View the full list here.

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