We all know that high-potentials are 2x more valuable to your organisation than other staff and working with high potentials in a HiPo program should be exciting and stimulating. So why do HiPo programs create such challenges, and why do more than 50% of participants drop out of HiPo programs? The biggest problem for most of us is identifying the people who really have the potential to lead the organisation in the future. If you ask a manager to list top performing team members, and then ask to list those with the most potential, invariably you will get two nearly identical lists. The hard truth is that managers don’t have an objective way to measure future potential, they can only tell you subjectively who is performing well today and unfortunately this isn’t good enough.
Only about 15% of high performers today will make successful senior leaders. For the other 85%, the HiPo program is simply not going to deliver what an organisation hopes. And worse, an unsuccessful program discourages those 15% of true high potentials who are key to the business. They may look for opportunities with competitor organisations who they believe will better recognize their capabilities. Without having the right HiPo program in place you may be wasting your time and effort and actively chasing away your best people.
However, a well-designed HiPo program will deliver you a pipeline of leaders ready to take up key positions in your organisation. To ensure your program is successful make sure to incorporate these five steps in your HiPo program design.
If participants think that after two years on a HiPo program they are going to land a position on the main board, they are going to be extremely disappointed when this doesn’t happen. At the same time a HiPo program needs to be more than a glorified training program. Be clear about what you are offering and what you expect in return.
For starters, you will be looking at current performance. “What! But you just said only 15% of high performers are going to make successful leaders”, Correct, but almost all of those HiPos are high performers. This means you begin by asking your managers for a list of high performers. With this list you need to begin the extraction process and have to whittle the HiPo list down by a further 85% to get to the true high potentials. In addition to current performance there are three characteristics that you will be looking for: capability, ambition and commitment. Each of these characteristics needs to be carefully defined in its’ own right and measured.
Even the first step of manager nominations, based on current performance, should be as objective as possible. When annual performance ratings aren’t rigorous enough, scoring against predefined competencies, 360 ratings and structured questionnaires can all be used to reduce the subjectivity of the managers’ assessments of performance. Capability is best measured through psychometric evaluation measured against pre-defined competencies, which will also help to identify ambition. Commitment is more about an ongoing dialogue and maintaining effective engagement.
The days of an annual two-week sheep dip training course are long behind us. However, all HiPo participants will benefit from exposure to different roles and situations. To develop high-impact development opportunities, select specific competencies for development. Interview your existing leaders and ask them when they required these competencies to be successful. These ‘incidents’ will help you to identify opportunities for your HiPo participants to develop. Alongside this look to establish systematic job rotations, build a mentoring system, and don’t discount coaching as a method for enhancing leadership behavior.
Some high potential people will be ready for promotion in a year, for others it will take five or more. And all the time you are balancing the number of HiPo participants with the organisation’s need for new leaders. Think of it as building leadership bench strength that you can pick from when needed, rather than identifying an individual for a specific position. If you expect around 75% of your future leaders to come from your HiPo program, you will find this balance easier, and this will also allow room for some new blood to enter the leadership team from time to time.
Following these five steps will help you to build a HiPo program that will quickly become the bedrock of your leadership talent pipeline. It will improve your understanding of your talent population, increase leadership capability and improve engagement in your leadership team.
If you would like support with the execution of an A-class HiPo program contact us today!
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