Article: Prabir Jha: Managing talent is the art of differentiation

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Prabir Jha: Managing talent is the art of differentiation


Prabir Jha, Global Chief People Officer at Cipla talks about how he benefitted from a HiPo program, leveraging HiPos as employer brand ambassadors, the 'Type 1' and 'Type 2' errors companies make and measuring the success of HiPo programs in tangibles
Prabir Jha: Managing talent is the art of differentiation

High Potential must be a thought leader and a thought shaper


In a candid conversation with People Matters on a radio show, Prabir Jha, the Global Chief People Officer at Cipla shared his ideas on leveraging HiPos as employer brand ambassadors and speaking from his experience, he talks about the common traps organizations fall into and making HiPo programs successful.

We capture the conversation as a Q&A.

Many organizations are hesitant to talk about their HiPo programs internally, let alone using HiPo program as an employer brand asset. Is there an opportunity for organizations to leverage their HiPo programs as an attraction and retention tool?

I believe that in a socialist structure of an organization, talent always finds a way to define itself. But often, corporate leadership has been found to be a victim of appeasement. A lot of companies shy away from the differentiation of their employees as they run the risk of upsetting the other members of the organization. As a consequence, they end up not having an articulated HiPo program. 

Organizations are still at a nascent stage when it comes to leveraging HiPos as their employer brand ambassadors.

But to reach that stage, companies first need to realize the importance of taking bets with some people; because it is not possible to bet on all of the people at the same time. And if you don’t bet on your own people, someone else will.  Managing talent, according to me, is fundamentally the art of differentiation and focused effort. And to create a HiPo program, corporate needs to clear its conscience and belief system.

In your experience, would you know of instances when companies were able to differentiate between talent and leverage them into HiPo programs in a more sustainable and scalable way? 

Yes, I have witnessed such instances. Infact, I benefitted from a HiPo program personally in my career growth. I was a part of a program which was formally not known as a HiPo program, but the effect of it was very clear. I became the CHRO of an NYSE listed company in India well under the age of 40. 

In that particular organization, we ran a program of picking people for leadership roles very early in their careers. A lot of young people in their 30s were brought into the top leadership team of the company. And it was one of the finest management teams that I have been a part of. It is so inspiring for people within the company to look at people who can get to the top levels in an organization and become CXOs so ahead of time. Sometimes people worry about work experience, but I believe it is not about the years of experience behind you and the number of grey hair strands you have, but it is about whether you are able to envision a different future and inspire people to get to that future. 

People like to work with high potential leaders, and this creates a huge impact.

How can organizations leverage high potential talent internally to create a culture that percolates what you are trying to do as a business? 

To begin with, organizations must be clear in their heart and mind that they want to celebrate high potentials. Assuming that this bridge has been crossed, the first step for organizations is to talk about their high potentials publicly so that it gets legitimacy and is not seen as a cloak and dagger operation. 

I myself have leveraged a lot of HiPos in some very high impact transformation projects. And in my experience, they have done a fantastic job. I have witnessed HiPos lead organization and business transformation programs, conceptualize it and help implement it. When you give credit to the people for the work they have done, they become the ambassadors of the organization by default. 

Making HiPos mentors is also a good way to give them exposure. I have found that bright young people prefer to be mentored by bright young people instead of average guys or senior guys just for the sake of it. It is of mutual benefit to both the HiPo mentor and the mentee. And overall, the organization benefits when people are mentored early and get inspired.

Organizations can also leverage HiPos to be brand ambassadors both internally and externally. HiPos, for instance, can be made part of recruitment teams and be organization representatives in campus visits. In many instances, the people who hire are not always inspiring leaders and that is the reason candidates opt out of an opportunity. A candidate once told me that he loved the job and the opportunity, but he did not like the guy he was supposed to be working with. HiPos, if put as a part of the recruitment effort for an organization, can be strong talent magnets. 

Externally, what are the areas other than campuses where HiPos can be leveraged as brand ambassadors?

There is a large opportunity for high potentials to be seen or heard on public platforms and forums. It does not always have to be the CXOs who represent the organization. 

I receive multiple speaking invites, and it is not possible for me to attend them all. But I leverage all of these opportunities and a HiPo in my team to represent his/her views and be heard. This adds to the brand ambassadorship of both the HiPo and the organization.

That is one way of nurturing and sustaining your HiPos. Even if they fail, it is all about the investment you make in building their confidence. I also encourage High Potentials to write - because a High Potential must be a thought leader and a thought shaper. 

And when you give them an opportunity to represent the company, you send a message to the external audience that here is an organization whose leader is betting on people to come and articulate their views and ideas.

Is there a way to measure this process of leveraging high potentials to drive business impact?

Measurement of success of any HiPo program involves both quantitative and qualitative measures. For example, if one was to look at business, the quality of success of HiPos in mission-critical projects is one measure of success of the HiPo program. And the more the High Potentials get deployed for critical business projects, such as leading a country, is indicative of the real success of HiPo programs.

As a program there are many other dimensions which can be measured. One is, when an organization is promoting people to bigger roles, they should look at the percentage of HiPos that have been promoted. HiPos should move faster than others. Organizations should trace the improvement in percentage of HiPos’ promotion to higher positions to assess the quality of High Potential employees and HiPo programs.

Another metric to judge the success of HiPo programs is their longevity. No HiPo can retain his/her position for life? So a measure of success is how many people remain HiPos over how long a duration. If the duration is long, then it implies the organization spotted them early, moved them fast enough and they continued to remain HiPos for a very long time.

What are the common traps pertaining to HiPo programs organizations fall into?

The first challenge is to get comfortable making type 1 errors and ensure not to make any type 2 errors. A type 1 error is some good people will be left out from being identified as HiPos. Companies should get comfortable with some omissions, because they are unavoidable to an extent. A common counter argument made to this type 1 error is to not run a HiPo program, which can be suicidal in today’s time; because if you don’t bet on your people, someone else will. A type 2 error is getting someone in the program because you happen to like that individual. It must be a well-reasoned, fair, mature and a commonly owned process. 

Second challenge is to ensure that high potential is not seen as an act of coronation, but is actually seen as a suggestion or a hint of greater accountability. Organizations should refrain from making the HiPo feel high and mighty. HiPos must be rewarded; but more importantly it is about keeping the bar high and expecting greater accountability and results from HiPos. Companies often fall into a trap of keeping the bar low in order to showcase their HiPo programs as successful, but keeping the bar high actually unleashes the potential of people.

The third challenge is rotation of HiPos. There are times when HiPos get hijacked by an individual leader, and sometimes companies get over-dependant on keeping certain HiPos in particular roles for a long time. However good they are, HiPos remain HiPos when they deliver sustained breakthrough impact through different roles, in different contexts. This is another trap that organizations should be very careful of. 

The last is that it is very important to make sure that if a HiPo is not doing a great job, s(he) has to be taken off the list. You can do it formally or informally. Because a lot of credibility of a program is to make sure that it is by invitation and that it is by impact that you sustain your reservation. If these four thing companies can be watchful of then I think the HiPo program will help the company directionally for all times. 

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Topics: Employer Branding, #HiPoWeek, #HIPO

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