A few days ago, I was involved in a conversation with my client Divya. Divya heads Talent Management at one of the leading NBFCs in India – First India Financials Ltd. She and her team had launched a Hi-Po program six months ago and she was sharing her observations on the program effectiveness with me.
Divya seemed upset and also frustrated to some extent. Divya’s main issue was that despite a huge investment and designing the best of training programs, half of the target population was just not interested in the entire initiative. I could sense the dismay with which she was sharing about her helplessness. The participants were either not attending the planned interventions or were not engaged enough. The training programs and action learning projects were getting a lukewarm response and were referred as ‘the HR folks had planned’. The worst part was that; 60% of the participants saw a dip in their performance over the last quarter. As a result of this, the business teams were not happy and Divya and her team were bearing the brunt for the same.
One of the examples she quoted was of Naveen, who was a Branch Manager in the Consumer Finance sales vertical.
Naveen holds an MBA marketing diploma and was hired from the campus. He was a consistent performer over the last 3 years and was rated “Meets Expectations” in the last 3 PMS cycles. On his manager’s recommendation, Naveen was included in the Hi-Po program and was initially excited. However over time; he kept losing his focus and his performance kept dipping. Naveen reports into Amit, who is the regional manager in the same vertical. Incidentally, Amit was passing by and Divya introduced him to me. On being probed about Naveen, he was kind enough to reflect and share his conversation with Naveen, which was held 6 months ago.
Naveen: Sir I want to quit.
Amit: Why? What happened? You have been doing so well here! As a matter of fact, the Zonal Head was discussing your contributions today itself.
Naveen: All that is okay, but I have been working in this role for three years now. I have worked very hard and always tried to give my 100% every step of the way. However, I do not see any growth opportunities coming my way. My rating has been consistently ME, as you know. And if I were to be blunt, my career progression leads to your role, and that is not viable while you’re still here. I have a standing offer from Larkum Financials and that too with a 35% hike. Had you been in my place, would you have stayed back?
Amit: Naveen, don't take a hasty call. Larkum can offer you a role now but your career will get stunted there. After all, you are a high potential and high performer here. Offline, I am telling you that HR is coming up with a Hi-Po development program for employees with leadership potential like you. There will be training and other interventions for the next 18 months which will help you hone your skills further. This is a huge step in one’s career. I assure you that I will nominate you from our function. Consider this as a reward for your consistent efforts. And you will be able to address your areas of development in the program as well. You can now analyze the opportunities and take a call.
Ultimately, Naveen got retained at First India and nominated for the above mentioned Hi-Po program by Amit after a quarter. Over the next few months, he was a participant there but appeared completely disillusioned. He did not perform well, got frustrated in the process, kept repenting about the missed opportunity from Larkum and his performance in the current role also took a hit. Over the last quarter, his rating had come down to "Needs improvement". His team and his colleagues also wondered what is wrong; why a person who is a part of the Hi-Po program is on a downward performance graph! They doubted the credibility of the program and the entire organization focus towards talent development. CEO's vision of a learning enabled high-performance culture got questioned in informal team meetings. Even Amit was confused; was he right to retain Naveen and nominate him to the Hi-Po program? He kept reaching out to Divya and her team to understand the modalities of the intervention.
And the fact of the matter is; this is not only the story at First India – but at many more organizations.
Organizations, typically recommend Hi-Po programs to individuals as a carrot and as a retention tool; especially when we have nothing else to offer on the rational front such as compensation, bonus, promotion etc. But is that the main purpose of a Hi-Po Program? It becomes critical to define why is the organization launching a Hi-Po program? What do we want to achieve?
At Right Management, we believe that the Hi-Po programs are primarily designed to create a robust leadership pipeline for the organization and build the capability of internal leaders. Employee Engagement or retentions are a by-product of the same. In fact, it is really not advisable to consider a Hi-Po event as an Employee Engagement initiative, which in itself is a very important initiative for organizations and should be given its due space. Organizations that develop a Hi-Po program with a clear focus on succession planning and capability building; end up identifying the right talent for the same.
Are we listening to our Customers?
Who is the primary customer for us in HR? The employees, right? How often do we reach to our customers and try and understand their aspirations, HR Leaders or organizations that focus on involving the employees in designing interventions and inviting participation tend to see higher success ratios for any interventions launched for the employees. Knowing the aspirations and considering the demands is a tough ask, but isn’t this what ensures that the ownership of the Hi-Po programs transferred to both business and employees along with HR.
What are we saying, matters the most!
More often than not, HR initiatives get impacted negatively by a simple yet powerful tool called communication. At Right, we feel that it is one of the most undermined aspects of any program. Why are we launching this program? What is its purpose? Who all are the participants? And similar queries are often asked by not only the participants but the larger audience as well. Ensuring that the right message goes to the larger population is as important as the initiative itself.
The age old folly
The argument has been on for ages, do we look at historical performance when looking for future potential? And the answer to this is NO! Consistent performance at a current level may not indicate a high performance at a next level. And this is why only considering PMS ratings could be disastrous in selecting Hi-Pos. A Hi-Po program is serious business and hence it demands the rigor that will ensure it becomes successful. Using PMS data may be a convenient way out. However, utilization of scientific methods like an assessment center or using HR analytics would be more reliable while looking at participants for Hi-Po programs. It is after all careers at stake and managers and HR do play a pivotal role in the entire TM journey.
As the age old saying goes – Well begun is half done!
If the Hi-Po program starts with the right selection of candidates, implementation of the initiative may not be very challenging. Commissioning the right employee and managing the one who has been omitted can make or break the process.
Employees like Naveen will be found in each organization and they need the right direction from their managers like Amit. As HR leaders like Divya we will always play a pivotal role in conversations like these.
How are you starting your Hi-Po Program?
Ashwin Payal (Program Manager – Right Management) & Rupkatha Sarkar (Analyst at Right Management India)