Article: Identifying hi-pots in organisations


Identifying hi-pots in organisations

Understanding the nuts and bolts of identifying high potentials & their readiness to take up future leadership positions can put an organisation on a fast track

If an organisation has 60 per cent of its workforce eligible for retirement, there should be a process to seed a leadership pipeline and promote talent


Many forward thinking organizations are developing succession plans and systems to identify ‘high-potentials’ (existing employees who may have what it takes to move into future strategic leadership roles) within their organization. However, one of the most critical factors is the definition of high potentials which is more often than not confused with high performers. What is generally observed is the fact that performance management is clearly missing a clear definition of high potentials. There is thus, an urgent need to calibrate a common definition of high potentials. The process of identifying high potentials is an advanced talent development process, wherein people who are in the organization for the last 3 years, have a good track record, have the potential factors, and have an orientation towards development, are nominated. The barrier comes as they move up the ladder; one needs to look at complexity, visibility, span of control, change – these changes are exponential. They need to be conceptual. There has to be a clear understanding of the criterion and conversation. A good track record performance is the basic followed by leadership, value and culture. Identification of a high potential is similar to a good interview for a critical role.

Sadly, all too often these decisions are based on subjective data, wherein there is an overemphasis on experience, assuming strong verbal skills as a sign of strong leadership skills, evaluating leaders on the behaviors and skill sets that are not necessary for success in their role and overlooking leaders with potential to succeed at higher levels. Apart from these are the common follies that organizations make in rewarding commitment over ability, overemphasizing one skill or ability, safely assuming that those who excel at the tactical level of an organization will perform well at the strategic level too, and all together neglecting the importance of linking the business strategy to the tools used for assessment. It is critical to understand that accurate assessment information is indispensable in determining a high-potential’s readiness for future leadership positions. There must be a calibrated and consensus based decision. Organizations should opt for a robust diagnosis of specific, individual development needs in relation to the target level they may eventually occupy, so as to reduce the risk inherent in these critical decisions. Thus, having identified the so called high potentials, the next critical step is to make crucial development and deployment decisions.

Understanding the nuts and bolts of identifying true high potentials and their readiness to take up future leadership positions puts an organization on the path to succession success. As a multi-faceted, long-term strategic effort, succession management and planning are critical. As it is a costly affair, there should be no inherent mistakes. Committing to a robust, customized process that identifies the key competencies for success and accurately assesses future leaders, provides the foundation for long-term success in developing the leaders to meet the organization’s future challenges. For instance, if an organization says that 60 percent of the workforce will be eligible for retirement, then it needs to have in place a significant effort to seed a leadership pipeline; they must promote and stretch talent. Seeding leadership is critical, which implies having right talent at the right place and at the right time. There are five components: the first being – alignment with the strategy (people strategy with business strategy). For example, if an organization is aware of the fact that it will grow by 20 percent, it needs to figure out where they can find the people who could take on the critical roles. In such cases, HR will do a disservice if they cannot do this for the organization; they need to acknowledge that tactical is not strategic. The second – to ensure clear definition of what is high potential with respect to skills, there needs to be a clear and differentiated definition in place. The team should understand what is CHANGE and more importantly adapt to the changes. HR will need to ensure the same in a seamless fashion. The third point is – identifying the high potentials: a clear differentiated investment is required to move into their roles and an accelerated learning program could be of help. The fourth is development of leaders and the fifth factor is the focus on execution. Herein lies the challenge for HR, to initiate as well as actively participate in the execution.

There are a number of development programs, however, the best development program helps understand and capture the minds of the people; it helps them move up the value chain and 360 degree feedback captures the heart. To capture the head, there has to be in place a system for formal learning, WebEx training, coaching, mentoring, and development in the ratio of 70:20:10. All facets of success - competencies, knowledge, experience, and other personal attributes should be systematically evaluated to assess the individual’s readiness for future leadership positions.

In this entire episode of identifying high potentials and developing succession plans, one of the key challenges is that HR is not positioning itself as being strategic. It is neither redefining nor reinventing itself. HR needs to spend more time on fixing these problems.

Tacy Byham is the Vice President of Executive Development at DDI

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Topics: Leadership, Learning & Development

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