HiPo Development Programs are essential to establish a leadership pipeline, and ensure that the organisation continues to thrive in the future. Such programs spot and develop employees with potential for a larger role, and thereby bring in the element of sustainability in the organisation, and that of stability in the individual’s career. However, more often than not, such programs are not done right. The challenge is three-fold: organisations fail to identify the right talent, engage them in the right manner and then fail to retain them. The result: drop-out rates are dangerously high.
There are, however some easy pitfalls one can avoid while designing and executing a HiPo Development Program:
Expectation setting: It is critical that you have adjusted your expectations to the reality and know for a fact the end result of such a program. Expecting a savvy army of leaders to take over the organisation once the program is over would be overlooking the support and help needed post the program. Similarly, if the participant is of the viewpoint that he/she will ascend the corporate ranks quickly, it is important to reign in the expectations. Both the stakeholders need to be clear about the path and the result of the program, or else disenchantment is bound to set in midway.
Screening: Relying only on managers and team leaders to identify HiPo employees is a subjective and rather biased methodology. The program must have a sufficiently high barrier to include the very best of the best, but must be inclusive for everybody to be considered. Similarly measuring skill, motivation and commitment in an objective manner, and understanding which of these take precedence over the other is important. Equally important, is having a strategy to effectively encourage high-performing employees who didn’t make the cut. You cannot allow resentment to brew among colleagues due to select participation in the program.
Design the learning: Shipping off a bunch of employees to an exotic hotel for a two-week intensive training, and expecting them to come out as a senior leader is a misplaced intervention. The idea is to push HiPo employees to realise and hone their capability, and train them to be a natural part of the company’s future – not to overburden them with information, jargon and strategies. The design of the training intervention must be flexible to allow for everyone to learn and grow together, and must focus on actual application-based learning and mentoring, as opposed to classroom learning. Suitable mentors must be appointed to oversee the development of HiPo employees. The basic objective is to make the design beneficial and not restricting, and cementing the company values during the learning.
Measuring & Evaluation: Setting the baseline performance, measuring the progress, placing the employee in their future leadership competencies are all steps that must extensively use well-documented data and information. Psychological tests, 360 rating, group discussions, knowledge assessment tests are some tools that can be used to track the progress of an individual in different parameters. Measuring how far the HiPo employee has progressed is critical as it allows you to adjust the learning design accordingly. Furthermore, having an objective and data-based evaluation of employees helps in the identification the competencies they are likely to perform the best. Have room to give feedback to the participants, and allow for course-correction opportunities.
Sustainability: Ensuring the longevity of the program is one of the hardest challenges for HR professionals, as interest levels drop with time. Either the management fails to see the benefit of the program, or the participant doesn’t feel valued enough to continue; the challenge to engage the participants throughout the program is a tough nut to crack. The only way out is to have a clear vision in the beginning, define the benefits and make a sustained effort to keep the momentum up, while leaving enough room to focus on strategies that are engaging and dropping the ones that are not giving results. Using rewards to encourage participants is not uncommon, but must be done with due diligence and the development and learning program must not be reduced to a rewards program.
One thing is clear: there is no cookie-cutter approach to developing HiPo leaders, and organisations need to spend time, energy and resources in developing one that meets their unique requirements. There are challenges all along the way, right from identifying them, to training them, and finally making them stay. But a clear and well-defined path, unambiguous objectives, flexible learning design, and engaging strategies for retention can lay the foundation for a successful HiPo Development programme.