Why are HiPos important for your business? What is it that they bring to a business?
When the Boards are interested in issues like talent management and succession planning, the CEOs have to be automatically involved. A question frequently put to the CEO is ‘do you have a talent supply pipeline and do you have enough people at different levels who could power the growth of the organization?’ Another question that arises automatically for the CEO is ‘while I grow do I have enough people who can be departmental or functional heads etc’. All this boils down to the final question, which is who are these people and the answer to this is High Potentials.
So it does not begin with high potentials, it begins with the business need to grow, to sustain your competitiveness, to achieve the strategic agenda etc. Dealing with such business agendas always takes you back to HiPos. Then the most practical question is that can your strategy really be actioned on by people and do you have capabilities on the ground? Do you have the right kind of people? Who are they or where are they? Once you ask those questions in a large organization, you realize that you cannot know everyone individually and hence it is very crucial to have a process to identify HiPos, develop and nurture them.
What makes a successful HiPo process/program?
There are four factors that are necessary to make a HiPo program successful. The first is having a very clear concept of who’s a high potential in your context. There could be some universal HiPo traits but in a particular context one could be more high potential than another. Secondly, how do you identify such people? How do you ensure or assess the line manager involvement and how authentic is the arrangement? It should not be such that the boss’s favourite is pushed into a program because that will not help build meritocracy.
Thirdly, what do you do with them after you’ve identified them? The HiPos themselves may lose confidence in the process if you do not do something about it. Then it is about how well you align your HiPo process with your business strategy. Do you necessarily put them into critical projects? Do you expose them to strategic processes? Do you expose them to challenging markets? The linkage of the HiPo process to the business strategy is very important.
Lastly, how well do you communicate to the organization on what exactly is being done and how well you make other people feel important as HiPos are only the 25 per cent while the rest 75 per cent also do the daily job that is equally important. So, how do you avoid creating a caste hierarchy yet create a clear focus that there are differential needs and there is a need for differential treatment in terms of development, compensation etc.
Amongst the four ingredients of a HiPo program that you mentioned above, what is it that organizations often don’t get right?
I think it’s the definition of a High Potential. A lot of people overtly rely on competency frameworks while I think it needs to be more sharply defined. One needs to look at three elements:
Mindset: Are you positive? Do you have energy? Are you excited? Do you take initiative?
Skills or capabilities: Are you a great planner, do you execute things well, do you negotiate well, what are those distinctive capabilities that you bring to the table?
Performance: Are you a consistent performer? Are you able to perform well in different situations and circumstances or do you perform only in a standardized environment?
If these three elements are well defined and identified meticulously, one can get a successful program. But most companies do not spend much time on this as they are in a hurry to skip quickly to the program itself while it makes sense to discuss thoroughly on what fits your business context.
With your experience, how do you define a high potential?
Well, I’d like to give an example. In a project management organization, perhaps a lot of structured thinking is necessary and people who have a mental make-up for structured thinking may be considered HiPos. In another environment like an investment company, a lot of ambiguity tolerance is the mental make-up you need. So the ingredient that your situation/organization requires is something that needs to be sharply defined in line with the context. So in defining a HiPo that linkage is very important. There could be one generic definition according to which a lot many may be considered HiPos, but in a particular context some may have more relevance or significance than the others. So, it’s about engaging with the line managers and discussing how we should define high potentials in our own situation.
What is your message for HiPos?
There is no definition of a HiPo. It will keep on changing but you need to continually invest in yourself and understand your context while realizing the need to push yourself in certain areas more in order to remain a high potential. There are a lot of cases where one is considered a HiPo in one stage of the career and not a HiPo 10 years down the line. This happens because the HiPo lost sight of the fact that one can’t rest on past laurels and not continue to grow. The clear message is continue to learn, continue to find new mental models and capabilities that you need to develop to remain a HiPo. There is no fixed deposit as a high potential in an organization. Look at your potential as a mutual fund investment which can go up or down depending on a lot of things but you still keep investing in it.