Many organizations identify ‘high potential’ employees with the hope that a very small group of employees with extraordinary level of performance, commitment, learning agility and growth aspiration will drive the organization forward and can form the sole source of future leadership talent.
While the theory is reasonable, it may not necessarily deliver business result if implemented in isolation. A handful of people cannot run the entire organization just by themselves.
Another reason why the ‘high potential’ initiative fails to deliver in many organizations is because it is initiated as part of a trend and not necessarily integrated in the DNA of the organization. If wrongly implemented, a company might risk disenfranchising the larger group of people, who are equally committed, by recognizing and overly celebrating such a small group of employees.
Another issue, organizations have always struggled with, is that there will be talents who perform extremely well for a period of time but fail to be consistent. In such instances, should the organization keep revising the top talent list? People who get knocked out of the list become so disillusioned and demotivated that they give up on the organization itself. Given these issues, some companies are contemplating a fundamental review of the whole concept and process around high potential employees.
At TE Connectivity, we take a more pragmatic approach towards ‘High Potentials’:
1 While we value the high potentials, we also remember the fact that all high performing contributors are important for the company to be successful. Therefore, we ensure the messaging is subtle and we emphasize that top talents are not the only people who matter. We never do over-the-top communication about an employee being identified as a top talent.
2 We believe that every individual has ups and downs. We do not take our stakes off just because one has missed a quarterly forecast number, especially given the volatile and unpredictable market situation we are witnessing these days. What we do not accept is compromise on values and behaviors. As long as a person continues to demonstrate the right behaviors and does not deviate from company values, we stay invested.
3 We always ask ourselves, top talent for what? At TE Connectivity, we don’t get into the false trap of trying to develop every top talent into a business leader or a P&L leader. An individual, who is a star engineer, may not always develop into a great business leader. But he/she could be a potential principle engineer and bring about great innovations for the business.
These people will continue to bring value for the business but may not move out of their core expertise. Hence, a separate career path for must be provided for these experts and other employees also.
4 We never underestimate the critical experts. There are certain domains which are critical for the success of a business. For example, a manufacturing engineer might be critical for the operations function because he has mastered certain processes in the operations area or a product manager might be an expert for a certain category of products because of his deep understanding of customers and product applications. We ensure that such critical experts are never ignored and we invest in that group with as much seriousness as the top talents. This has to be communicated by the top management in the company and made visible to all.
5 To ensure that identifying and developing high potential talent is not just a HR policy but is integrated into our organizational behavior, we provide them with specific opportunities and assignments that will help them develop and grow into top talents. And secondly, we believe that leaders develop leaders. So we facilitate mentoring and coaching by senior top talent leaders.
Therefore, it is critical that organizations don’t just focus on identifying high potential talent but also look at various functions within the organization that are important and allow the talent to reach their true potential.