High Potentials or Hi-Pos are the talent of the future, lifting and shifting today’s enterprise towards its strategic objectives. As the business landscape becomes more cut-throat, the right leadership thrust can make or mar organizational success. Some of the desired competencies that will help navigate the VUCA world are communication, change management, collaboration, calculated risk-taking and courage. Companies are striving to build these competencies through leadership development initiatives. In fact, the Hi-Po Program is a key input for the leadership pipeline, plugging in the future talent gaps, today.
The concept of Hi-Po has gained much attention since the time talent innovators from the Fortune 500 such as Pepsi and GE led the way in successful Hi-Po Leadership Development. While best practices in the field abound, organizations must understand that no one size fits all and it is imperative to curate a customized approach aligned with one’s specific business needs. Hi-Po Program development calls for a dual-fold approach— an inwards-looking reflection of business and talent goals, complemented with an external industry-view. HR and Business leaders must carefully curate every stage of the Hi-Po Leadership Development initiative, from HiPo identification through HiPo development to HiPo retention.
How to customize your Hi-Po Program
The success of a Hi-Po program is governed by how well it helps organizations achieve their talent objectives, which in turn are intricately linked with its business objectives. A HiPo Program is in essence, about recognizing and developing employee skills and mindset. Here is what to keep in mind to create a customized HiPo program.
- Foster a developmental culture: A congenial environment for employee development is your first step towards building HiPos and your HiPo strategy must blend well with your company developmental culture. Coaching and mentoring for the long-term must be the foundation of a Hi-Po Program, since it helps build the desired competencies and attitudes. It is no surprise that 71% of the Fortune 500 use internal mentoring programs for HiPo development (ASTD Survey). Tie in other developmental initiatives with specialized leadership career pathing initiatives, including rotational stints and mobility opportunities that offer multi-dimensional exposure and experience. Inculcate visibility and access to senior leadership through leadership connects and communication, as a channel to learn strategy, hands-on.
- Design the right selection process: It is important to design the HiPo employee selection process as critical a talent intervention, it has been found that employees who are formally identified tend to consider themselves high potentials more so than those who are informally identified (Survey, Center for Creative Leadership Survey). The HiPo selection process must be transparent and well communicated, and clearly state the competencies being assessed, in line with the talent culture. Change readiness, decision making, communication, team leadership are some of the key competencies to assess employees for. Also, be willing to consider employees who have failed, often they are the ones with significant risk-taking capabilities—a key leadership competency.
- Build the right process: A good Hi-Po process provides the right stepping stone to cultivate great leaders within the system, by creating the right opportunities. Design a formalized process to elicit the desired outcomes at every stage i.e. HiPo identification, HiPo development and engagement and HiPo retention. An ideal process should walk the fine line between employee differentiation and inclusion. Assign greater responsibility to identified HiPos by designing special projects that align with the organizational direction. For example, a company that is centered on multi-geographical growth can assign HiPos growth-assignments in new markets. Turn to action learning to help HiPo employees gain the real-time insights from on-the-role challenging assignments. Cross-functional projects are a great way to build future leaders who think the big picture. Differentiated training interventions are essential to creating a well-equipped HiPo leadership pipeline. Formalize the HiPo milestones such as leadership interactions, performance on assignments and ongoing feedback sessions to ensure process effectiveness.
- Communicate with Care: According to a CCL survey, 91% of participants in Hi-Po Leadership Development program know if they are high potential or not. Despite, this, it is critical to treat HiPos differently, at the same time adhering to inclusion. Communicating correctly with HiPos makes them feel good about their HiPo status, at the same time putting more pressure on them to perform. Thus, it is communication interventions must also include managing the downside of being in the organizational spotlight. Direct and frequent communication is often missing, and organizations must make an effort to provide honest assessments on past performance and insights into future engagements on employees’ HiPo leadership journeys. In fact, HiPos can be leveraged to identify more HiPos for initial HiPo selection, similar to how a referral program works; this requires a specific communication campaign.
- Reward and Reinforce: Organizations must understand that a majority of identified HiPos are already committed to their organizations (95%, CLC survey) and motivated by their jobs (96%, CLC survey). However, employees who know they are HiPos expect a higher degree of connect with their employers. Meet these expectations by offering differential rewards to reinforce HiPo behaviour. Provide unlimited learning opportunities, in line with professional aspirations, despite the additional costs incurred. Curate customized rewards depending on specific needs, a growing trend is non-monetary rewards such as special work arrangements and unlimited leadership access. A clear career path with SMART milestones outlined can reinforce the loyalty and commitment of a HiPo to the organization, and motivate high performance.
A successful Hi-Po program essentially aims at aligning the multidimensional elements i.e. the abilities, aspirations, and engagement levels of employees to suit the company’s needs. However, these elements are constantly changing with diverse talent pools entering the workforce. The Hi-Po program of today must thus be agile and responsive, changes with the demands of a dynamic HR strategy. Though HR is the custodian of Hi-Po leadership development programs, HR leaders must actively engage with functional business stakeholders to make Hi-Po an authentic and effective process. Talent interventions must ultimately match the strategic agenda of each function, converging up to the pan-organizational strategic needs.