Many years ago, my human resources director told me that I was a high-potential employee (HiPo). I protested and told her that I was a mediocre employee. I had no desire to do any extra work.
Despite my protestations, she stuck me on a collaborative project team with folks from IT and procurement. We were given a challenge: save the company money by tackling a problem that no one else was able to solve.
That wasn't exciting for me. That was a pain in my backside.
I still don't know why employers always think HiPos want to be challenged and stretched. Maybe that's true, but I think it's one of those HR urban legends that we can't seem to kill. I think HiPos want to learn and grow. They're willing to do work outside of their comfort zone. But your HiPos also have outside lives and personal needs that are equally as important.
So here are five ways to engage and develop your high-potential employees without jumping on the HIPO bandwagon.
1. Meet all the levels of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
You pay your people well. You give them a great work environment with beer and ping pong tables. You have summer hours, a flexible work environment and a generous bonus plan. That's great, but I love the idea of offering your HiPos an opportunity to create their career paths and professional identities.
If I had a cohort of HiPos to shape and mold, I would create opportunities to meet industry leaders and icons. I would send those individuals to retreats, conferences and workshops where they could think about themselves in a more holistic way. I wouldn't focus on love and esteem. I would ask these HiPos to engage on a journey of self-actualization and mastery.
2. Give opportunity, not more work
Being special is a blessing and a curse. Hard-working adults are often rewarded with more work because everybody knows they can get stuff done. When assigning a HiPo to a project or a new team, remove administrative hurdles and rote work before piling on more tasks.
3. Pair HiPos with likable colleagues
HIPOs like to hang out with other HiPos. Create a mentoring group to help create a strong internal link between newly hired employees and successful legacy employees who know how to navigate the political scene.
4. Praise with sincerity
While everybody likes praise, nobody likes obnoxious sycophants who praise because they're afraid to criticize. Your high-performing, high-potential employees are great. They’re also human. Nobody is amazing every single day of the week.
5. Perks matter
Money matters to some employees, but you would be surprised with how well you can do with a creative stock program for employees who demonstrate HiPo-like qualities. Also consider rewarding great work with time off. A vacation day in the middle of the week is a godsend to someone who is busy, engaged and needs to run errands.
One more thought
Human resources leaders are managing a crushing talent market. Creativity is key for retaining all employees. Differentiate yourself. Don't follow conventional wisdom and treat your high-potential employees just like your competitors treat their HiPos. If you don't think like a HiPo, you'll lose talent to the next organization that comes around and thinks creatively about how to recruit and retain the best and brightest talent.