Developing High-Potential Talent at Farm Bureau Financial Services

Most organizations today understand the importance of formally, or informally, identifying high-potential talent. The challenge comes with creating development opportunities that are meaningful and engaging, and that prepare talent for future leadership roles. After all, why go to the effort of identifying emerging leaders if you don’t do anything to differentiate their development?

Most organizations today understand the importance of formally, or informally, identifying high-potential talent. The challenge comes with creating development opportunities that are meaningful and engaging, and that prepare talent for future leadership roles. After all, why go to the effort of identifying emerging leaders if you don’t do anything to differentiate their development?

Our organization, Farm Bureau Financial Services, struggled with this challenge just three years ago. Fortunately, what started as rough ideas sketched out on a napkin has evolved into an effective and engaging high-potential talent development program.

The program is called “IMPACT,” which stands for Integrity, Motivation, Passion, Accountability, Collaboration, and Teamwork. It struck a chord immediately with leadership, as the name embodies four of our organization’s six core values. At its heart, IMPACT is a leadership development process designed to take a holistic, experiential approach to building business acumen at an enterprise level, while also developing leadership competence.


The task of creating a leadership development program seems relatively easy. Where the rubber hits the road is in implementation and execution. Too many times organizations realize, often the hard way, that the program is falling short in preparing talent for leadership roles. So how do you ensure the program leads to desired outcomes?

For Farm Bureau Financial Services, program designers first identified the competencies that would drive content decisions:

  • Building Trust: Places confidence in others, gives proper credit to others, follows through on agreed-upon actions
  • External Awareness: Understands external conditions affecting our business and engagement in the community
  • Innovative Thinking: Sees opportunities for creative problem solving, thinks in terms of desired outcomes, not just reactive, quick solutions
  • Leadership: Is able to influence others, practices self-awareness, understands personal strengths and weaknesses
  • Networking/Relationship: Encourages collaboration, works together to find common ground, represents own interests yet is fair to others
  • Organizational Awareness: Understands the organization’s mission, its place in the larger community, and the functions of work units

Next, programming experiences and events were planned around intentional, real-life experiences designed to build and develop these specific leadership competencies.

To do this effectively, the creators of the program made two important decisions. The first was to divide the program content into four six-month-long learning tracks, each centered on specific business unit function(s). The other was to divide the program participants into four groups or cohorts. (The six-month time frame matched the cadence of the organization’s formal talent review process, which allowed for natural entry and exit of new or departing talent from the high-potential talent group.)

You may be wondering why the division of a program into learning tracks is called out as an important decision. After all, most large-scale programs are organized this way. In this case, it wasn’t about dividing the program content, it was about the holistic approach taken in creating learning experiences and social events tied directly to each business unit track.

Each track delves into a business area from a topical perspective. The difference comes in pairing the newly gained knowledge with specific business experiences. For example, while learning about the functions of Marketing & Distribution, participants gain hands-on knowledge by attending the annual sales rally, an agent awards banquet, or an executive-led quarterly business review meeting.

The insurance industry is highly regulated, so the program also includes exposure to State and Federal legislators, lobbyists, and industry trade groups. In fact, the highlight of the “Shared Services” track is a trip to Washington, D.C., where program participants learn about and experience the lobbying process. They are briefed on current legislative issues affecting our industry and then meet with senators and representatives to discuss those issues.

In addition to business-area-focused learning and experiences, the program includes IMPACT Events. All participants are invited to events ranging from speaker series and educational events to volunteer or social opportunities. Participants hear from thought leaders on leadership, industry experts on innovation and business interruption trends, and members of the board of directors during board-specific education events.

All together, these experiences and events collectively demonstrate how business areas interconnect and work in partnership to execute business strategy.

The other important decision was dividing the high-potential talent (HPT) group into cohorts. While this may seem rudimentary, it is not. For our organization, it turned out to be an essential element of the program. We learned you cannot underestimate the power and influence of helping high-potential talent foster networks and build relationships.

When asked what the best part of the program is, one respondent said, “Getting to know the group of current and future leaders on a more personal level. While from different areas of the company, we came together for a common goal while building lasting relationships.”

Another said, after returning from the Washington, D.C., trip, “The best (and most surprising) part of the trip for me was the way I was able to connect and bond with coworkers. I’ve made some lasting connections with great people and resources throughout the company.”

The biggest lesson learned, through feedback from participants, is the success of the program comes from going beyond building competence to building trusting relationships. Creating competence within the business is attained through fostering connections with the people.


Beyond building business acumen and trusted relationships, the program generates engagement, loyalty, and overall higher satisfaction. Results from a recent employee engagement survey validate this. Employee satisfaction for the HPT group was 93 percent, and the turnover rate was just 3 percent. Among the highest rated statements were, “I understand our company’s purpose and values” and “I understand how my job helps our company achieve the mission/purpose” (both 4.7 on a 5.0 scale).

In addition to higher employee satisfaction, two out of three program participants have had one or more promotions since the program began. Commenting about the program’s success and future, one respondent to the engagement survey said, “Continue supporting the IMPACT program as it encourages personal growth but in a way that it also benefits the company through loyalty and greater understanding among the staff and future leaders.”


The program has been successful to date, and we want to keep the positive results coming. To that end, as the program approached the end of its second year, a comprehensive evaluation was done, including a review of design, content, and competency alignment. Feedback from participants and leaders became the base of the program evolution, and both groups expressed preferences for more interactive, hands-on experiences.

With that in mind, the program now provides real project experiences, in two distinct tracks. One track is internal projects, focused on project submissions from business areas around the company, and the other is external projects, focused on partnering with local nonprofit organizations on business-critical projects.

The design of the internal project track allows participants to learn about the organization and accomplish results aligned to corporate strategy or innovation. The external project track gives participants the opportunity to enhance their community involvement and heighten visibility with local nonprofit organizations and understand the needs of our community.

In addition to teambuilding, participants’ knowledge is enhanced through specific learning opportunities to support the project experiences. These learning opportunities include topics such as Project Planning and Execution, Lean Six Sigma Principles, Cost Benefit Analysis and Budgeting, and Recommendation Writing.

The launch of the enhanced program is too recent to have measurable results. However, early feedback from participants, leaders, and project sponsors has been positive.

If you gained ideas as you read this article, keep in mind this quote from an IMPACT participant: “Perfect is the enemy of good. I am glad we got a good program going today, rather than a perfect program in five years.”

Karen Rieck, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, CCP, GRP, AINS, left, has been with Farm Bureau Financial Services since 2012 and is currently vice president of Human Resources. With 25-plus years of HR experience, she realizes the importance of continuing education and profession and industry designations. Contact her at:

Denise Kyle-Needs, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, AIC, AINS, has been with Farm Bureau Financial Services since 2018 and is the director of Talent Development. Her current talent development work is focused on employee and leadership development. Contact her at:


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