Any set of managers worth their salt will obsess about high-potential employees (or HIPOs as they’re near universally known). This is because they will work harder, represent the company better, and are more talented than their non-HIPO colleagues.
CEB data show that HIPOs produce 91% more valuable work for the company and exert 21% more effort than non-HIPOs. Managers are right to worry about identifying them (only 1-in-7 high performing employees classify as HIPOs) and to worry twice as much about keeping hold of them, and developing them so that all that glittering potential is realized.
And it’s not only their managers. A full 50% of HR professionals worry about their company’s HIPO program (the initiatives in place to identify, retain, and develop HIPOs). HR teams ask questions like, “My high-potential program is expensive – am I investing in the right people?”, “How should we prepare our HIPOs to take on more challenging senior roles in the future?” and, “Why is my high-potential program not working? People we thought of as high-potential are failing when placed into more senior roles.”
These questions are incredibly common because few HR teams manage to get their HIPO program working well. Almost two-thirds of HIPOs (64%) say they are dissatisfied with their development experiences, and over two-thirds of HIPO programs (69%) have failed to build a strong pipeline of leaders to take over from their firm’s current crop.
Three Ways to Get More From Your High Potential Employees
Three steps will help HR teams get the most their HIPO program.
Identify your HIPOs with an objective and systematic approach: No matter how good the training and development you include in your HIPO program, it won’t get anywhere if you invite the wrong people to attend. Many programs direct their resources, employee engagement surveys, training, and career opportunities to employees who are unlikely to rise to senior and more critical positions or, if they do, are unlikely to succeed.
For an employee to be considered truly high-potential, they need to be a proven high performer with three distinguishing attributes:
Aspiration to rise to senior roles
Ability to be more effective in more responsible and senior roles
Engagement to commit to the organization and remain in challenging roles
Benchmark your talent with external competitors: In a global market for talent, HIPO program managers need to understand how their HIPOs compare to their competitors, rather than just comparing HIPOs to their colleagues in the same company. Without understanding how your talent compares to best-in-class peer firms, you wasting training and development funds or focusing on the wrong skills for the market challenges you face.
With proper external benchmarking you can track talent trends across the industry and update your training and development accordingly. Periodic audits allow help with tracking HIPO trends from your company and its competitors over time, providing insights into how your HIPOs are faring as well as how effective the development program is.
Develop your HIPOs through experience, not just formal training: Those running HIPO programs are often too eager to spend time and money designing traditional training approaches that include things like off-site workshops, classroom-style training courses, coaching/mentoring, and online e-learning sessions.
This approach spends too much time trying to “build competencies” in isolation and not enough time helping HIPOs apply what they learn to improve performance on the job. CEB data show that 70% of learning comes from experience, 20% from others (colleagues, consultants, etc) and only 10% from formal training. On-the-job learning has two-and-a-half times the impact on employee engagement and three times the impact on performance than traditional training.
The most effective high-potential development activities are centered on highly visible, important, and challenging experiences. These experiences not only place individuals in assignments where their potential can be applied and realized, they also HIPOs’ commitment to their company and their aspiration to succeed.