How to Grow Your High Potentials

      It’s one thing to identify a high potential employee (HiPo) on your team.

      It’s another thing to keep that person engaged. 

      Many organizations recognize their future sustainability and success depends on having a pipeline of reliable talent to fill senior leadership positions in the future.

      Building bench strength is one of the key topics being discussed by Human Resource professionals in many of the organizations with whom we work.  We are hearing things like: 

      • Our entire senior leadership team is 5-7 years away from potential retirement. We need to seriously focus on developing the leaders that are going to fill their shoes. 
      • We don’t have a large number of ‘titled’ leadership positions to dangle in front of HiPos. How do we keep them engaged, learning and driving for that leadership position that might not exist for another few years? 

      • We know we need to focus on ‘next level leadership’, we just aren’t sure how to do this efficiently and effectively. 

      These sentiments align with some global research conducted by DDI which is touted as “one of the most expansive leadership research projects ever conducted…summarizing dozens of practical, evidence-based recommendations for critical business issues.” 

      Here are some highlights: 

      • The two top challenges identified by c-executive leaders for their organizations future success was developing “next gen” leaders (64%) and failure to attract/retain top talent (60%).

      • Only 35% of HR professionals rated their organization’s bench strength as falling between slightly strong and very strong.

      • 50% of HR professionals say their org does not have well-integrated and strategically aligned leadership development programs or processes and 35% say they don’t have a HiPo development program at all.

      • A gap exists between leaders rating the overall quality of organizations leadership as high (42%), and HR professionals rating of 30% on same question.
      • Companies on average spend over $4,000 and 39 hours on development activities per HiPo leader however they don’t necessarily measure the effectiveness of their efforts.

      • Conventional view, that HiPo pool should only consist of 3-5% of the overall leadership population pool within the company, is not supported by the research - research shows that companies that designated 32% of leaders as their HiPos tend to be more effective and companies that develop HiPos below senior levels are 4.2 times more likely to outperform other companies that don’t do the same.

      This report outlines a clear business case for putting in the right HiPo program that is systematic, customized to your organization and includes a process for measuring ROI. 


      Learn More About High-Potentials Here


      Every employee should have a development plan andthey won’t all look the same! 

      I was speaking with an executive recently and he was sharing a struggle with a fairly new recruit: 

      “She interviewed so well, really blew us out of the water with her knowledge, creativity and the way she approaches problem solving. She started out really eager, and now 6 months in I’m not sure what is happening with her. I really had her pegged as a high potential (HiPo) employee during the interview process and now I am questioning what happened between the interview and her experiences here six months in,” he shared, “Is it her or is it us?” 

      People who are driven toward leadership are looking for meaningful opportunities to grow and develop their careers. 

      In speaking with some Gen Z’s they shared that they want to be really good in their current role and are also seeking opportunities to get involved in projects outside their role that will expose them to other parts of the organization and help them showcase talents that may not be highlighted in their current role.  

      Today’s young leaders are looking for a more concrete path to show them what is possible. And although no company can guarantee what the future looks like, helping the person to map out a potential path and then putting it back on them to drive their development can keep them excited and engaged. 

      There is some pushback on labelling people as either being HiPos or not. Here’s the thing, this is not about naming the ‘teacher’s pet’ or creating ‘the great divide’ between employees.

        Every employee should know what skills, talents, experiences are required to move into different roles in the organization.

      Not every employee is going to be interested or capable of moving into every role.  This is where public information and individual conversations are keys to a solid HiPo development program. 

      I was speaking with a salesperson in an organization where I was helping implement an employee development system. 

      She popped into the board room one day and asked for a minute of my time.

      She shared that she was upset at not being considered for a sales manager role that had just been filled.

      I asked her if she had applied. She was silent for a moment and then said, “No. But why didn’t they come to me and ask me if I was interested? I’ve been here a lot of years and they know what I can do”. “How would they know you were interested?” I asked her.

      After a bit more conversation we finally landed on why she was upset.

      She felt she didn’t need to apply, they just should have thought of her for the role and they didn’t and this was hurtful. 

      The information about the role was public, there was just no conversation on an individual level with this person to help her identify the skills she needed to demonstrate in order to be ‘thought of’ for this role.   

      Now she had to own her part in this scenario for sure and the organization also learned that the potential spin off effect of situations like this could result in good employees becoming quietly disenchanted.   


      What can you do to create clarity and drive engagement with HiPos? 

      Purposeful companies outperform the market by 42%.  So what can you do to get purposeful about your HiPo leadership development program? Here are some ideas from companies who are doing it well: 

      • Formal Development Plans – put it in writing. Identify skills, traits, experience that will make a person successful in a ‘next level’ role and then identify opportunities for the person to gain these experiences and showcase their talents.  Your job is to provide them with the right information and direction, their job is to take the initiative and responsibility to drive toward their goals.  And if they are truly a HiPo…they will!  
      • Coaching– 1:1 coaching gives them an unbiased perspective to support them driving their own career direction and decisions and work on their interpersonal and communication skills. 
      • Cohort programs – bring small groups of HiPos together from different areas of the organization. This is a place they can share their struggles, challenges, successes and learn from each other. It’s also a place they can start to build relationships with leaders they will be working with in the future. 
      • Mentorship – connect them with people who have walked the path in the organization for support and guidance on areas specific to your org and industry. 
      • Sponsorship  a sponsor is different from a mentor. A sponsor will give a person very specific organizational feedback and direction, connect them with the right people and opportunities, and give them candid feedback on the behaviour that is moving them in the right direction or perhaps detracting from their success. 

      Treating HiPos as the investment they are is good for the long term success, sustainability and profitability of your company. 

      You will spend hours and dollars investing in a new product or service that you hope will create long term success for your organization. Investing in the future leaders of your organization should get the same level of focus, time and investment. 

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