Article: The Higher Agenda for High potentials

A Brand Reachout InitiativePerformance Management

The Higher Agenda for High potentials


Trying to perfect a HiPo plan, organisations miss out on certain crucial aspects that may hit like a hidden iceberg
The Higher Agenda for High potentials

The best way to identify high potentials is to include softer aspects like behaviour, attitude, aspirations, drive and the passion along with other assessment tools


A lot of organizations, especially in 
India, completely miss out on notifying their high potentials even if they have identified them


All men are born equal, but some are more equal than others – George Orwell

When George Orwell wrote the “Animal Farm” during World War II, he put forth this statement – so simple and yet so revolutionary. A political satire against Joseph Stalin, the book was an allegorical novel in many ways than one. Cutting back to 2014, the idea is yet to be imbibed. Not everyone is talented. Some are more talented than others and that is a reality that companies need to keep in mind. In a volatile and uncertain economic scenario, where opportunities are abundant for talent, organizations are increasingly realizing that the competition for talent is growing each day and there is a need to have a talent pipeline in place.

In order to build the talent pipeline, companies are finding newer ways of holding on to their high potential talent and effective ways to engage and develop them. But, what is the best way of identifying and developing a High Potential talent? In order to answer this and several other questions, People Matters and Right Management joined hands for the ‘HiPo-Week’– a week-long initiative marked by webinars, radio programmes, tweetchats, master classes and virtual coaching sessions where senior leaders from the industry and experts helped organizations in understanding how to get the fundamentals of a HiPo program right. The initiative also busted the most common myths surrounding high potentials and highlighted the most recurring yet ignored mistakes in the whole process.

Companies manage to identify high potentials irrespective of whether they have a HiPo program or not but what comes after that is the big question. There are four main stages of a high potential program according to Right Management – Identification, Notifications, Development and Measurement of Return on Investment. All of these steps are inter-connected and missing one step could result in a total loss of effort in the program.

Are we ready for a higher agenda?

You cannot reap apples if you sow a mango seed. This also implies to the so-called higher agenda for HiPos where a lot is being talked about developing HiPos looking at a long-term approach for organizational and individual growth, but the ground reality is that a lot of companies are still struggling to get the basics right.

There is no point spinning strategies for future growth if the first and most crucial step, which is identifying the right set of people, goes wrong. Chaitali Mukherjee, Country Head, Right Management – India says, “Most of the time, organizations pick up high performers and view them as high potentials and that’s the first step of the failure of a high potential program. Maybe 60 per cent of your high performers are HiPos, but what fails the process is the remaining 40 per cent.”

Organizations mostly have two ways of identifying their high potentials. They do it intuitively or make use of assessment scores, KRA measures, 360 degree feedback etc. as tools to decide the same. However, either of the approaches is not appropriate for identifying HiPos. The problem with the former is that the decision may be biased and may or may not result in the desired outcome of a program,while the latter only assesses an individual’s current performance. A high potential is not the one who is a high performer in his/her current role but someone who has the ability to take up future senior roles in an efficient way. Moreover, there are chances of the assessment tools not being fool-proof and in such cases the entire process goes for a toss.

The best way to identify high potentials is to include softer aspects like behaviour, attitude, aspirations, drive and the passion along with other assessment tools. According to R. Gopalakrishnan, Director, Tata Sons, “HiPos come forth as imaginative hungry people.” Organizations need to look beyond the usual aspects for identifying the true potential. It calls for breaking the ice wall of the age-old policies and procedures and changing the entire outlook.

The rifts

A lot of organizations, especially in India, completely miss out on notifying their high potentials even if they have identified them. Revealing this shortcoming of the Indian work culture, Gopalakrishnan says, “In Indian organizations, nobody is told directly or indirectly whether he/she is a HiPo. Therefore, there are high potentials in organizations, but they don’t know yet”. But having identified the high potentials and not giving them the due importance could result in bigger issues. Dr. Santrupt Misra, Director, Global HR & CEO, Carbon Black Business at Aditya Birla Group says, “The HiPos themselves may lose confidence in the process if you do not do something about it.”

Another gap hampering organizations from taking the leap of growth with their high potentials is the lack of a strong development plan and ways to ensure its outcomes if there is one in place. This problem could be caused due to multiple factors like:

  • Organizations may be mistakenly treating high potential development programs like regular training programs
  • There is a lot of haze around who should own and drive the HiPo program, whether it is the HR, the CEO or the HiPos themselves
  • Lack of commitment and support from the leadership
  • A HiPo program is a one-sided effort where either the organization or the HiPos fail to complement the other’s efforts with honest enthusiasm and drive
  • The design of the program could be restrictive and lacks the ability to provide the high potentials the freedom and flexibility they need to perform better in bigger roles
  • The program may not be aligned well to the organization’s vision or long-term strategy

Therefore it is imperative that organizations need to have a wider perspective of looking at HiPo development. Emphasizing the same, Rajdeep Endow, MD, Sapient India says, “As businesses are rapidly changing, there’s a scope for exploration and we support experimentation. So if a HiPo is really passionate about doing something and it generally fits in with what the organization does, we will probably support it even when we may not fully understand where it would go.” A HiPo program should not be restricted by norms – it should offer a bigger canvas to the high potentials and the organizations also need to have a bird’s eye view to be able to provide that.

Bridging Across

Reaching higher up with the agenda for optimally leveraging the high potential talent pool has been an easy journey for none. During the process, some organizations have also risked losing their most precious asset – talent. Moving up requires meticulous efforts. While there is no magic wand for getting it right, the 10 simple steps below may come handy in avoiding the most common glitches:

  1. Know what you need Why do you want to develop HiPos? What is in it for the organization and for them? Is it for functional requirements or organizational goals? Define your requirements, expectations and outcomes in the beginning itself.
  2. It won’t happen on its own Prabir Jha, President & Group CHRO of Reliance Industries, says, “It is very important to continue to look for HiPos and put them through different sets of programs, pushing them further. So, if you don’t have a HiPo program, simply make one!”
  3. Get the basics right The reasons why most HiPo initiatives fail is wrong identification. Identify the right set of people and put them through value-adding programs and activities so that they feel consistently motivated. Vinay Razdan, CHRO of Idea Cellular, says, “Nothing can put off a high potential more than putting them in a dead role”.
  4. Align to streamline Every organization has different requirements and expectations based on its vision and a HiPo program or any initiative for that matter needs to be in sync with the same to bear outcomes as desired.
  5. Assign onus Ensure there is a focused resource responsible for the HiPo program, be it the CEO, the HR Head or a high potential and communicate it across levels practicing transparency and clarity on the process.
  6. Be patient

    As Prabir says, “HiPo is not like instant coffee”, organizations need to invest in efforts and wait for a significant amount of time for the desired outcomes. Meenakshi K.S., Director and Country Head – HR, Credit Suisse (India), says, “Putting high potential programs in place is like planting a tree. You don’t get the fruits immediately.”

  7. Appreciation pays It is very important to keep your high potentials motivated through consistent acknowledgement of their efforts. China Gorman, CEO, Great Place to Work, mentioned in the tweet chat, “Focus on treating people well and appreciating efforts and outcomes while providing meaningful work. It works for HiPos and everyone else.”
  8. Transparency begets trust Govind Shrikhande, CEO, Shoppers Stop says, “Along with having a strong process, transparency of the process is also very important, the lack of which could lead to the failure of a program.” An organization’s growth is impossible without the larger army and that is why it is important to communicate across levels and maintain transparency to avoid any conflicts of trust. It also helps keep everyone aligned with the greater agenda of developing talent while making everyone else also feel valued as a part of the organization.
  9. Keep a check Since a HiPo program is spread over a longer duration compared to other training programs, it is important to consistently validate and reconcile the effectiveness of the efforts invested. This can be done by measuring talent gaps through regular assessments. Vikram Bector, Chief Talent Officer at Tata Motors, says, “Providing continuous feedback is a key enabler as sometimes managers of HiPos do not provide timely feedback and I have seen many HiPos getting derailed despite all the other inputs being in place. The absence of candid and in the moment feedback did them in.”
  10. Don’t go by the rules There is no one-size-fits-all HiPo program and hence organizations are free to explore, experiment and innovate to design a program that fits their business context but sometimes organizations just try to follow others and that’s where the whole effort could collapse.

Talent being the strongest catalyst for growth, organizations are always keen on enhancing its capabilities thereby creating value for both and as a part of that process, it is very important to seek feedback from HiPos themselves. HiPos are their best critics and frequent feedbacks from them about the program and other processes may let the organization look at some perspectives they might otherwise be missing out on unknowingly. Learning from their feedback and experience will only help organizations make their program stronger.

While the present scenario demands a clear focus on getting the program right, the future surely would be about sustaining and scaling it up. Though organizations are coming to realize the urgent need for a strong succession plan and the war for talent is on its peak, the higher agenda for high potentials seems a far flight as a lot of organizations still struggle to get it done the right way. In such dynamic times it is difficult to predict for how long an organization can sustain its success without adopting the right measures for developing their top talent. The early adopters will be able to survive the storm. However, the others may well keep trying to wade through for talent but it might get them nowhere.

Secret ingredients of a HiPo program

Chaitali Mukherjee, Country Head, Right Management

High performance is the ability to perform well in one’s current role, while high potential is the ability to take on a future role better. Most organizations consider high performers as high potentials and that’s what fails a HiPo program.

Dr. Santrupt Misra, Director, Global HR & CEO, Carbon Black Business at Aditya Birla Group

If the three elements-mindset, capabilities and performance-are well defined and identified meticulously, one can get a successful program. But most companies quickly skip to the program without analysing what fits their business context.

Prabir Jha, President & Group CHRO of Reliance Industries

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!

Rajdeep Endow, MD, Sapient India

To institutionalize a good HiPo program, it is important to democratize it. We cannot tell our people everything that they need to be doing. We can tell you what our needs are as an organization, but you need to make the choices based on what you’re passionate about.

Bijay Sahoo, President - HR at Reliance Jio Infocomm

The benefits of a structured program is the surity of the outcome as you know the process well while in an unstructured program it’s ad hoc. A structured program ensures an easy internal replacement in case of a loss of leadership talent.

Prashant Khullar, Director – Human

Resources, Taj Group

For identifying HiPos, most organizations rely on a set of data like KRAs, subjective feedback of managers etc. That is where we can go wrong as in a matter of 2-3 days we may or may not be able to fully gauge one’s abilities. These tools should be seen only as an indicator towards potential.

Meenakshi K.S., Director and Country Head – HR, Credit Suisse (India)

A HiPo program is like planting a tree; you don’t get the fruits immediately. You create the framework, nurture it and then you see the future leaders coming out. It’s a 3-5 years’ game, but with regular discussions it works pretty well.

Suchitra Bhaskar, Director L&D at Crisil

A three-pronged approach works best to get the leadership pipeline ready. One, identify the right set of people. Two, ensure they stay along or retain them and three nurture and support their potential to make out the best of it.

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Topics: Performance Management, #BestPractices, #HiPoWeek

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