Article: A HiPo program is not instant coffee!

A Brand Reachout InitiativePerformance Management

A HiPo program is not instant coffee!


A HiPo will not remain a HiPo all throughout his/her career, says Prabir Jha, President & Group CHRO of Reliance Industries
A HiPo program is not instant coffee!

What is the role of a high potential program in bringing about business success and what is it like when an organization does not have a high potential program?

The reality of success is that only a small percentage of people make a disproportionate impact to the future of any organization. Most of us are ‘solid citizens’, but the people who actually take an organization to the next level are typically the HiPos as they think differently and hopefully impact disproportionately. These people who have the ability to visualize and work differently are creative in their approach and can create an escape velocity, which is critical for an organization to keep changing orbits.

So an effective HiPo program, if there is one of such kind, is a very good start for an organization to: Be sustainable; Build scale; and Assure itself for the future.

A lot of companies face challenges in creating and implementing a strong HiPo program as it calls for a lot of leadership commitment. Some leaders simply look for instant measures and clearly a HiPo program is not like instant coffee. In such a scenario, if an organization is devoid of any HiPo program and is just playing on serendipity, the probability of getting to the next level quicker and faster in a more efficient way is very less.

In my view, it is very important to continue to look for HiPos and put them through different sets of programs, pushing them further. It is also equally important to encourage the ‘solid citizens’ at the same time as they are the army who keep it going. So, if you don’t have a HiPo program, simply make one!

How do you measure a successful HiPo program?

A HiPo program should not be measured like a business result quarter-on-quarter and that is an issue with most HiPo programs, which kills the project even before you’ve actually taken it up. There should be a time perspective like say five years or more as a HiPo program is like sowing a seed, which will bear fruit only in the future. It’s important to understand that we are not building HiPos for jobs for tomorrow, but for a series of bigger jobs coming up in the future. Allowing some gestation time, HiPos should only be measured on a day-to-day basis in terms of assessing how they have performed in their current roles, has their potential become sharper over days etc. Going ahead if one can provide a number such as 75-80 per cent as the answer to how many of their CXOs have come out of their HiPo program, then it can be said that they run a very effective HiPo program. But, if the number is around 20-30 per cent, one can say that the program would have been good but it has not been able to deliver.

What comes in the way of making a HiPo program successful?

The first thing to consider is what a company is and what it will be in the future is not arithmetically easy to visualize as companies change business models, they diversify and shrink. Therefore, the role of leaders through a HiPo program could vary from the time the program started. The second aspect very clearly is the leadership commitment. The third and most important aspect is the HiPos themselves. If you don’t let the person know that he/she is a HiPo, then you’re losing out on the foundation. One should know that it’s not necessarily true that a HiPo remains a HiPo all through the various stages in career. A good HiPo program never emphasizes that once you’re selected, you’ll remain the same for the next 20 years. It allows the time and flexibility to learn and grow. Lastly, the HR community and the CHROs should also take a little flak as I believe that we as the senior leaders have not been able to nurture HiPo programs with the level of creativity it requires at times. We should be able to help bring in different people at different stages of the HiPo program, being able to get leadership time commitment, mentorship and willingness to take risks with talent. All this brought together could ensure creation of a successful HiPo program.

What are the key characteristics that help identify a HiPo?

There can be various characteristics to a High Potential, but I believe in a few of the following to be the most important indicators in the present times where ambiguity is one of the biggest challenges.

- Youngsters nowadays want everything to be clear cut black and white, but it’s not practical as we live in times of a lot of uncertainty and one who can be comfortable with it and still perform best is a HiPo.

A HiPo always displays a passion to sell his/her own ideas with a lot of confidence and energy.

A collaborative approach is also a distinct characteristic as one cannot be a genius alone. A HiPo knows how to make the best out of collaborative efforts.

Last and the most important is the learning agility as one who has the ability to learn, unlearn and relearn keeping aside any past experiences, biases or ego is a true HiPo.

How was your journey as a HiPo?

I had a very unique background as I initially joined the civil services, which is one of the toughest exams in India and clearing it in the first attempt was great. So when I look back at my journey, one thing that comes across as the most interesting has been my ability and willingness to take a leap of faith as leaving the civil services was not easy. The authority, comfort and status it provides, it’s not easy to give it all up.

The second is the willingness to start all over again because I moved sectors and I had to keep pushing myself to learn as I interacted with different people, faced different challenges and moved into different roles.

The third unique fact is that the people I worked with have been very generous and supportive, as have been all of my seniors at some point, be it the CEO or the Board. They are the ones who actually took a risk with me. It could be an act of serendipity, but it always conveys that someone is putting their trust in you to take up a bigger job and that’s what takes you towards achieving bigger success. They allowed me to soar, make a few mistakes and did not micromanage me.

The last thing worth mentioning is the team that I had built worked. You must build a team that’s wiser, smarter and brighter than you. The job of a leader is to pick the right team, at times ensuring that if someone has to be exited, it has to be done, but done nicely. Finally, keep them engaged as at the end of the day it’s the team that takes you wherever you are.

What is your message to people who aspire to be a HiPo?

Play a few lofty shots, take the risks, you might be caught at the boundary line sometimes but its fine as you don’t have to win every time. But if you play a good innings with a lot of confidence, chances are that you will win! Moreover, you would build a very solid reputation that can absorb the odd slips.

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Topics: Performance Management, #HiPoWeek

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