How To Identify Your High Potentials

      In some organizations September and October are kind of like the beginning of a school semester. All the new recruits have come in, perhaps fresh from College and University. They are bright and eager and ready to show what they can do.

      As a leader you are busy not only orienting these bright new recruits into the organization, but also assessing along the way.  Who is going to perform? Who appears to be struggling already? Who is going to be a shining star? Who is not living up to what you expected? 

      I was speaking with an executive recently and he was sharing his excitement about one new recruit: 

      “She interviewed so well, really blew us out of the water with her creativity and the way she approaches situationsproblems and peoplehad her pegged as a HiPo during the interview process,” he shared. “I can already see how the way she approaches things is elevating the performance of other more seasoned team members.” 

      What is a High Potential (HiPo) Employee and why is this important? 

      Many executives we work with are focused on identifying high potential employees.  

      What are they and why is this important? 

      There is a difference between a high performer and a HiPo. 

      High performers are those employees who really excel in their role.  They may be the top salesperson, the top programmer, the top customer service rep or the top producing draftsperson.

      They may be ‘tops’ in their role however they do not demonstrate the desire or skills to lead and motivate others or show a strong innate desire to contribute to the organization in any way outside their specific role.  

      HiPos are those employees that are tops in their roles and demonstrate a keen interest in helping others be successful and providing value to the growth of the organization beyond their role. They are the individuals you see as having the potential to be influential and impactful future leaders in the organization.  

      Research shows a clear pattern of payoff from employing high potentials and cultivating that increases with the complexity of the job. In medium complexity jobs, like first line sales managers or trainers, high potentials outperform average employees by 85-100% and for high complexity jobs (e.g. senior leaders) the contribution of HiPo is more than double. 

      They are the “force multipliers” as they raise the bar for their colleagues and direct reports. Having HiPo in a team can boost the effectiveness of the other team members by 5-10%.  

      This is a great quote that captures the essence of HiPos:

      “By word and deed, they model and teach winning behaviors that shape high-performing cultures.”    


      How to Identify  HiPos 

      Another executive was sharing her excitement over some new hires that came into the organization at the beginning of September.  “I can’t quite put my finger on it,” she said, “there is just something about these two that tells me they are going to have a big impact and go far in the organization. It’s exciting to be their leader and has actually made me want to up my game so I do right by them!” 

      I asked her if she could identify some characteristics in them that stood out from the other high performers on her team. 

      As we drilled down on this, she landed on a couple of key factors that stood out. “Everyone is skilled or showing potential to do well in their role. These two stand out because they are always asking how their role fits in to the bigger picture. They ask a lot of questions!” she laughed.

      “It really challenges me to think and I probably share things I wouldn’t think to share if they hadn’t asked!

      She paused for a moment then continued, “They seem to be driven to be better, constantly asking for feedback on what would make their good work better. I also see them helping others. It’s not part of their role to do that but they just seem to naturally be interested in the whole team excelling, not just themselves as individuals. It’s like they want others in the org to see the whole team as being exceptional and a good contributor to the overall good of the org. They also connect the dots as to how our team’s ability to work cooperatively and productively with other teams contributes to the whole org being better. It’s actually quite amazing to work with them. 

       What this executive shared is common to what we hear when we are coaching in HiPo programs within organizations. 

      These employees seem to just have something extra, something that tells the leader it will be easy to develop this talent and it is also crucial to the future of the organization to develop this talent. 

      What this executive shared is confirmed in this research that drills down into 3 main categories to watch for when identifying HiPos: 

      • Ability – Not only are they able to do their job, but are they able to learn more, pick up new knowledge quicklyThey think strategically and systematically and are they adaptable when the landscape changes. They think like a business owner, not an employee. 
      • Social skills - They are good at relationships! This involves two fundamental abilities: ability to manage self and ability to manage others. They are able to take constructive feedback and act on it and they are able to develop strong cooperative relationships with team members and others outside the team. In a short time in the org they develop a strong and long reaching network. 
      • Drive – They put in extra effort, not to receive accolades, just because that is how they are wired. They seek out opportunities for extra assignments and they jump at the chance to try things that make them uncomfortable, in order to gain experience and develop their skills. 

      Is it important to formally identify HiPos? 

      In our current world, there is a push against assigning any kind of label on people and for sure there are many labels that can be extremely harmful.   

      So, what’s the business advantage of assigning a label to HiPos?   

      Many organizations have formal HiPo programs or are considering creating formal programs and scientific studies have long suggested that investing in the right people will maximize organizations’ returns.

      One Human Resource executive was sharing this: “We have not done a great job of developing future leaders as our senior leaders are so long standing that there is a perception that there are no leadership opportunities for our people to develop in to. 

      Now we are recognizing that most of our senior leaders are 5-10 years away from retirement. We are soon going to lose all that experience and knowledge and there is going to be a huge gap in the organization.

      If we don’t put time, effort and investment into identifying the next up and coming leaders we are going to be in big trouble. It is imperative to our sustainability and long-term success that we create a formal focus on this. 

      The conversation went on to whether or not this new ‘HiPo program’ should be a formal, publicly discussed opportunity or a more ‘behind the scenes one on one’ opportunity.  “I don’t want people that we don’t identify as HiPos to think we don’t value their contribution or be disappointed and create disengagement of some really good people,” he shared. 

      This particular study is interesting as it asks the HiPos their perspective on being formally ‘labelled’: 

      199 HiPo leaders were surveyed regarding how their organizations identified, invested in, and leveraged their high potential talent and whether or not that was a key factor for themHere is what these HiPos had to say: 

      • 77% of high potentials believe that being identified within the organization is really important to them  
      • 84% agree that organizations should be putting more investment into HiPo and other valuable talent, extra investment is one of the reasons why being recognized as HiPo is considered important  
      • Most HiPos feel good about themselves, but not all, some feel elevated stress and anxiety because of the increased expectations and others are frustrated about company’s unclear intentions 

      • HiPos are more committed and engaged when they have a clear path 

      • 84% of high potentials say that they are actively involved in identifying and developing potentials in others 

      One HiPo, I am currently working with that is enrolled in a formal program in his organization summed it up beautifully: “I do feel extra pressure and a bit anxious sometimes to be ‘identified’ as a HiPo however it also gives me permission to be bolder and more courageous in my conversations with others. When I am sitting in a meeting with more senior people I feel I have been given permission to contribute my ideas and thoughts and ask challenging questions which is helping me build relationships, knowledge and skills quicker than I think I would if I were not labelled. It’s made me braver and even more excited to be part of this organization!” 

      We’d love to hear what your organization is doing about developing the next generation of leaders!

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