Like Shakespearean ‘to be or not to be’, every organization faces the dilemma of keeping a balance between ‘to hire (hiring a person into leadership position) or not to hire (grooming one’s internal pool of human resources into various leadership positions)’. Like opinions in every walk of life, here also, there is no definitive answer and no answer is right or wrong. What I am giving here is strictly my personal opinion and they are certainly not the panacea. Having said that I would like to stick my neck out and say that an organization can attain the ideal state of enlightenment in terms of human resource parlance only if it can identify, nurture and groom its high potential employees into different leadership positions. This is not the place to discuss about the various traits and the various forms/types of leadership and I go ahead with the assumption that these traits are very well understood by the organizations.
But it is easier said than done and organizations have to tread quite carefully here. It is a tight rope walk. It could be a boon or the bane for the organization depending upon how the entire program gets carried out or even more importantly how the program gets perceived in the organization. One should never underestimate the power of perception. However well one’s intended objective may be but if it gets perceived otherwise the damaging impact would be huge.
So let’s see some of the challenges faced by organizations.
How does the organization identify high potential employees?
It is quite essential to be able to differentiate between high performers and high potential employees. It is very easy to get swayed in one direction or the other since there would be major overlaps. It would be rare to find high potential employees not performing or high performers without any potential and there lies the catch. The difference is so subtle that the organizations got to be absolutely sure about the traits they look for in individuals. Of course the high potential employee has to have the skills, the hunger and the aspirations, but the organization has to look for those underlying traits that would suit a particular leadership position aptly. After all, one would not have groomed Einstein to be a great accountant! More often than not it is the fault of the organization when it fails to develop employees into various leadership positions because it is not sure or has quite vague notion of qualities it is looking for. But then how to look for those qualities, those traits? How does one differentiate? Again it’s a personal view. Everything else remaining equal, I would go for the employee who is willing to go that proverbial extra mile. I would look for that spark which comes from the conviction. I would look for the one with courage to make mistakes while trying and not playing safe. I hasten to add that some of these things are quite subjective but these traits start surfacing quite obviously over a period.
How to nurture and develop the identified high potential employees?
This is relatively the easier part compared to the previous one but requires very minutely chalked out plan and the diligent monitoring of the program. The development program has to be designed keeping the individual’s existing and would be profile into consideration. Here ‘one size fits all’ approach would not only not work but be disastrous. Specially designed training programs, mentoring; putting the employee in various minor leadership roles; job and roles rotation are some of the ways that an organization could take. Give them challenges, stretch them. One very crucial factor which may make or mar such program is the involvement or the lack of involvement of the current top management. Without their direct involvement the program is bound to head towards disaster. The early detection of contrary signs is also equally important. If the employee selected is not fitting the bill, the organization should not hesitate in pulling him/her out of the program. This may happen due to various reasons. Organizations may have done the wrong selections; employee might have lost the motivation or started taking things for granted and so on. Whatever the cause may be, the early detection and the course correction is the best remedy for all concerned.
How to communicate about this program in the organization?
This is the trickiest part – whether to make this program an overt or covert one; whether to have a very well defined policy or the unwritten, ad-hoc method adopted by many organizations. However, what is most important here is how the program gets perceived by those who are left out. A well balanced and transparent approach would go a long way in assuaging the feelings of such employees, though it can never remove them all the way. The success of these programs also depends on the overall organizational culture – culture of trust, openness, transparency, lack of bias etc.
High Potential Employees Development – Benefits & Challenges
A well designed and transparent program, if successfully implemented can be beneficial to the organization as well as employees. Organizations have internal pool of future leaders whereas talented high potential employees are assured of bright future in the organization. This can work as a great retention tool too. Of course there are obvious challenges as cited earlier but they are by no means insurmountable. A transparent program, diligently implemented and properly communicated is the way to go about it. These programs should be designed keeping not only the short term requirement but the long term goals of the organizations too.
Lastly, I would like to conclude by saying that an organization should not hesitate in withdrawing the program altogether and going back to the drawing board if the designed program is not working properly, than sticking on to it with a belief that everything is all right.
Disclaimer: This is a contributed post. The statements, opinions and data contained are solely those of the individual authors and contributors and not of People Matters and the editor(s).