Potential related to subject matter expertise is different than management potential, but it is still potential. For experts, potential is measured in two dimensions: first, the potential to develop broader and/or deeper expertise in the field and second, leadership potential rather than management potential
In most companies, a person with “high potential” is understood to possess the right ingredients for a management or senior management role or is identified as the potential successor of a person holding a key management position. Management roles typically refer to responsibilities like strategy and execution, business and/or geography P&L responsibilities, and, of course, leading people. At higher levels, it means leading social systems.
But what about the brilliant engineer, savvy marketer or innovative designer who does not want to manage others and does not have the patience or motivation for the financials? Are you identifying high potentials to be potential successors for experts holding key positions in the organization – and including them in your development programs? (Typically when a highly-valued expert leaves, the loss to the organization is more significant from a cost perspective than replacing someone on the management/leadership career track.)
How would your organization answer the following questions?
· What are your retention strategies for employees holding the expertise capital of the organization in their hands?
· How are high potential individual contributors managed and engaged?
· Do talented individual contributors have career tracks or must they grit their teeth and join the ranks of management if they want to get ahead?
· Is leadership as important in expertise career paths?
This leads to a more global question we often discuss with our clients: “High potential for what?”
Many companies struggle with the answer when evaluating the Expertise dimension. As an example, when companies use the 9-box potential performance grid to evaluate the talent pool, brilliant top experts often are slotted as being high on performance and low on potential. This cannot be the right picture.
Potential related to subject matter expertise is different than management potential, but it is still potential. For experts, potential is measured in two dimensions: first, the potential to develop broader and/or deeper expertise in the field and second, leadership potential rather than management potential. Experts without leadership skills and experts with leadership skills do not bring the same value to the organization.
Unleashing the potential of your experts for their own benefit and that of the organization is crucial. The question is how.
· How can you identify, assess, and develop the potential of your key subject matter experts or individual contributors?
· How should you manage their careers?
· Is there room in your high potential programs for people who excel at what they do but don’t want to manage others? If yes, where?
The challenge for organizations lies in navigating a course between the “one size fits many” approach and the “one size fits one” approach. The former provides the necessary scale to justify the design/implementation effort and cost given the number of people who would benefit from the initiative, while the latter is more appropriate for individual experts with high value and potential.
Having high potential experts experience with exactly the same assessment and development track as your high potential managers does not make sense. But it’s critical that your top experts know they have been identified as high potential, that they can benefit from developmental initiatives with Education, Exposure and Experiences ingredients, and that the company is investing in their development. Here are ways to leverage each ingredient on behalf of the individual contributor:
Education – Experts need sessions that continue to develop their subject matter expertise — fast track programs for example – but should also take part in Leadership Development programs since those skills are also important in their roles and in connecting with other leaders of the organization.
Exposure – Individual contributors benefit from exposure to external or internal top experts in their field, but they also need exposure to external or internal leaders as food for thought on their own leadership dimensions.
Experience – Experts will grow by participating in projects related to their field but should also take part in projects involving collaboration with other high potentials in the organization.
It can be difficult to convince experts of the value of being involved in programs primarily designed for managers. They need to understand that leadership and being a role model are crucial in their role, and that they should spend time and energy reflecting on their leadership strengths and development areas.
At Right Management, we help facilitate those discussions and identify drivers of individual contributor performance and engagement. From there, we help develop workforce strategies that create a compelling reason for top talent, management- or functionally-focused, to stay with the organization and help it innovate and out-agile the competition. That is a formula everyone likes!
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