Article: Betting on HiPos – Leveraging new-age tech to get higher returns

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Betting on HiPos – Leveraging new-age tech to get higher returns


Increased globalisation, growing competition and the advent of technology is forcing organisations to rewrite the very rules of success. Digital disruption is amongst the most profound changes, forcing organisations and people to adapt and change.
Betting on HiPos – Leveraging new-age tech to get higher returns

More than 90% of employers expect their organization to be impacted by digitization in the next two years*.


To align with this new digital reality, the tenets of leadership are ever evolving. Emerging leaders are expected to be digital-savvy, social and collaborative to steer the organizational ship in the right direction. High Potentials naturally benefit career-wise from their unique set of abilities and attitudes, but they must continuously evolve to stay relevant and deliver higher returns for their companies. This is where organizations must intervene, with the right leadership development programs, starting with identifying high potentials to nurturing them as current and future leaders. This task is best achieved by leveraging the very proponent of change-technology. Progressive leadership development programs should tap into digital skills to yield higher returns. Here’s how. 

Leadership Development Today: A Reality Check

New business imperatives are demanding new leadership directions. Accordingly, organizations are pouring resources and attention into leadership development, spending as much as 27% of their L&D budgets on HIPO programs each year. Two-thirds of companies are even trading away from other tal-ent investments to fund their HIPO programs**. Despite this massive spend and disproportionate attention, 80% of HR leaders are dissatisfied with their current HIPO programs*. Most programs do not develop effective leaders, are expensive and mostly target only senior leaders. The fact is that organizations are significantly impacted by a shortage of qualified leaders (50-70% respondents as per a survey). The top agenda for organizations should be to develop new-age skills in the rightly targeted HiPos. HiPos are already blessed with the three important capabilities: aspiration, ability, and en-gagement** (CEB). Senior business leaders and L&D professionals must, therefore, leverage the best of technology to optimize and fine-tune Leadership Development offerings to yield desirable results. 

A Futuristic HiPo Program: A Digital Construct

The challenge is that the leadership roles of tomorrow are going to be significantly different from those of today. The skills landscape is fast changing; 3 of 4 business leaders believe that automation will require new skills over the next 2 years. In fact, leadership itself it set up for complete overhaul-most organisations expect that, within in 5 years, more than 40% of the leadership roles that exist today will look dramatically different. As a result, organizations must build the leadership funnel for today as well as tomorrow, based on the new-age leadership principles such as adaptiveness, resilience, and opportunism. Digital is a critical driver of future competitiveness, (as indicated by 81% of respondents of a McKinsey survey). L&D must tap into digital means to bring to life a new leadership paradigm-a strategic, well-thought of leadership development agenda that is future-ready with newly defined roles and capabilities as follows:  

  • Digital investors: Build senior executives who embrace the venture capital mindset, uncover opportunities, invest in talent and ideas, forge partnerships, and build an ecosystem that enables innovation

  • Digital pioneers: Role holders who set the vision for the company, create the roadmap for the next two to three years, drive the adoption of new digital capabilities, and set the pace of change

  • Digital transformers: Emerging leaders who lead through change while focusing on the operational elements

  • Digital Enablers: HiPos who bring and build critical technical capabilities—such as analytics, application design and development, cognitive computing, and data science—to take digital initiatives from the drawing board to the marketplace

The next generation leader has to be a “digital leader”. Hence L&D must envisage and define new digital roles and capabilities by donning the hat of “Digital Design Thinking”.

How to Facilitate an Effective HiPo Program

Creating this “Digital Leadership” requires embracing digitization at every stage, right from identifying HiPos, to creating learning interventions to measuring HiPo effectiveness.

  • Align HiPo objectives with business strategy: At the outset, CXOs may need to rethink the organization’s leadership model. Building leaders should be a part of the business strategy, and senior leaders must be willing to share the baton with young leaders. This involves a mindset-change, for example being ready to be reverse-mentored by younger people to learn new-age skills such as digital and social. 

  • Build agility into HIPO processes: HiPo programs must be able to change as the needs of the company change and find employees with the right type of ability, aspiration, and engagement to suit the company’s needs. This focus makes it 70% more likely that a company will have a strong leadership bench. This means that HR and L&D should partner with other stakeholders who may have a better understanding of changing leadership requirements. Also, the aspiration that makes a person seek a leadership position may change over time, it is important to track these changing aspirations using data, analytics and human connection. Most importantly, HIPOs value progression and not just promotion, hence L&D must provide aspirational career plans to help HiPos grab growth opportunities. Also, the organizational structure and workflows must be revamped to embrace digital agility, new values like decentralization and agility must be ingrained in leadership roles. This is the first step towards creating a “pull” towards digital leadership.

  • Widen the learner-group: Typically, 3-5% of employee population is enrolled in a HiPo program. This is the very antithesis of decentralized leadership and limits the limits the number of potential emerging leaders and the overall impact of the program. In fact, 54% of leaders believe that too few employees are sent to HIPO programs. Rather than the limit to small-group, in-person HiPo programs, HR should leverage the power of digital learning to spread the reach of leadership development across the organization

  • Offer digital learning channels: A company with a strong learning culture is 46% more likely to be first to market and has 37% greater employee productivity. Digital and social learning help democratize employee learning, building futuristic skills across a wider base of employees. Leadership development programs must tap into these new-age learning channels and media, to propagate new-age skills. 

  • Cultivate an “innovation mindset”: Research indicates that companies with formal innovation programs deliver 300% more growth in five years. L&D must imbibe innovation in the HiPO program, starting with a culture assessment, analysis of innovation gaps and strengths and putting in structures and processes to encourage innovation-behaviors. HR and managers should celebrate success stories to motivate HiPos on their digital efforts.

  • Contain costs through digital reach: Digital learning and high-quality scalable content can-not only achieve greater reach and effectiveness but also lower the cost of educating leaders. Digital helps override costs such as the cost of travel, cost of employee absence, etc., and enables anytime-anywhere skill development across a large population. 

  • Continuously Measure HiPo Success: Organisations must know where they stand in terms of leadership success, and hence it is important to outline metrics and track them in line with the business roadmap. A common complaint about HiPo programs is their inability to demonstrate ROI. Digital means help prove the business and financial impact of programs, 

The cornerstone for these efforts is spreading digital awareness. Senior leaders must strive to build an expanded view of digital transformation and orient emerging leaders to truly embrace digital. Building digital-maturity and digital-readiness is an important milestone for HiPo development. Emerging leaders must understand that digital transformation is different from mere adoption, or implementation, it is an overhaul in core systems, skills, and attitudes which a finely designed digital leadership development program can spearhead. 

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Topics: Technology, Diversity, Leadership Development, #HIPO, #HiPoWeek

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