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Feed the hungry HiPos

Derek Murphy //April 16, 2013//

Feed the hungry HiPos

Derek Murphy //April 16, 2013//

Let’s talk about the world of the hungry HiPos: high potential employees who can develop into leaders. Research by the Harvard Business Review shows high potentials represent the top 3 to 5 percent of a company’s talent.

High-potential employees are generally considered highly intelligent, talented, ambitious and extremely motivated. They represent the company’s values and continue to produce work that is above and beyond what is required.

When it comes to grooming new managers and leaders, you must identify the right employees as high potentials; obviously, not everyone is qualified to be a leader. Once these high-potentials are identified, the company must ensure it is providing these workers with the resources to grow and evolve within the company.

Many companies, however,  are failing to do so.

According to “Identifying and Developing High-Potential Talent,” a 2011 study by AMA Enterprise, a division of the American Management Association, about one in four employers is seen as ineffective in retaining high-potential workers. Slightly more than half of survey respondents reported their organizations are somewhat effective in their ability to retain high-potential employees.

Developing future leaders should be essential, but many companies don’t invest in programs that can help identify and develop their strongest employees. I’m sorry to say that if your company operates this way, you can say goodbye to your high-potentials.

The findings of an employee engagement study by The Corporate Executive Board (CEB) revealed that 25 percent of employer-identified, high-potential employees plan to leave their current companies within the year, as compared to only 10 percent in 2006.

Pretty shocking, isn’t it? This study was released in 2010, so it would be interesting to find out if those employees surveyed actually left the company or not. Or worse, they “quit” and stayed.  So, what’s one of the keys in keeping your HiPos? 

Talent development

Most of you reading this column would likely agree that developing top talent is critical to a company’s survival.  So why is it that such an important component to an organization’s success is often ignored?  Before we attempt to answer that question, let’s review a scenario playing out daily within thousands of companies.

A friend of a friend working for a Fortune 500 company marketing department was the very definition of a high-potential, although she never received any recognition or growth opportunities. Tired of the lack of career advancement in the company, she found another job. Before she could quit, however, her current company told her she was being incorporated into strategic planning and being groomed for a leadership role. Her company put her through a development program, and she’s now the director of marketing.

When the company began to show interest in the promise of this individual’s leadership skills, she got more engaged within the company and turned into an even more productive employee than she already was. If nothing had changed, she surely would have accepted the other job.

Again, there’s nothing unique about this example.  But I’m still surprised at how frequently we lose some of our best and brightest.  After all, we spent time and energy defining the roles these individuals would fill, interviewing them, training them and providing on-the-job feedback.  It reminds me of all the companies vying for our personal business, only to finally grab our attention, sign us up – then promptly take us for granted (you know who you are).

Why is talent development is oftentimes not deemed a priority or is grossly underfunded? Do you think some companies or managers simply regard training and development as distractions from work and barriers to productivity? Perhaps they view employees only as resources to complete today’s assignments. Take a few seconds to think of a skilled employee at your company, and contemplate the difficulty of having to replace that employee. How long would it take to train a replacement? Does the thought scare you a bit? It should.

This is why so much emphasis needs to be placed on talent development. If you’re not feeding these HiPos in the form of providing challenging assignments, achievable stretch goals, opportunities for advancement (salary, title and responsibilities) and investing in their ongoing development, then all you’re really doing is providing an unintentional talent pipeline for your competition.

Here are some talent development tips I find helpful for high-potentials:

  • Meet with your high potentials regularly throughout the year, not just at appraisal time. Review progress on their development plans and on their career planning. If there are stumbling blocks, ask: “What do you need to successfully meet this goal?” Do your best to provide what they need.
  • Find out about the training and development opportunities available in your organization, and pass this information along. Encourage high-potentials to participate in these activities, and allow work time for this whenever possible.
  • Learn how to empower high-potentials to contribute at higher levels through providing special assignments, constructive feedback, and targeted development opportunities.
  • Be a role model for development by openly pursuing learning and taking risk.

We all know how important it is to properly identify these high potentials and give them the tools they need to succeed.  It’s not easy,  and it’s certainly time-consuming. I think most of you will agree with me, however, that it’s well worth the energy.  The sooner we realize the full potential of these overachievers, the better off our companies will be.