High potential employees (also known as HiPo) represent the future of the organization. These employees have that special group of qualities that will help them move up the career ladder. HiPo employees are the next CEOs and CHROs.
They’re different from high performers. While high potentials represent the future, high performers are employees who are doing a fabulous job in the job they have right now. Obviously, companies need both and both are important.
What defines a high potential employee?
In his post “What are the Characteristics of High Potential Employees?,” author Sean Conrad discusses three distinct characteristics: engagement, ability, and aspiration.
Image sourced courtesy of CEB and used with permission.
Engagement is the employee’s discretionary effort and intent to stay. I believe this is the first piece to getting the most from HiPos. If an employee isn’t engaged, then it’s hard to achieve the other two qualities. It should also be noted that what it takes for engaging high potential employees might be different than everyone else. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that engagement is like recognition and motivation in that each person’s engagement criteria is unique.
Ability is the combination of knowledge and skills. Let’s face it, HiPo employees need to know their stuff. This doesn’t mean they need to know everything. Remember, they’re still at the potential stage. Their desire to gain new knowledge and skills could be viewed as an indicator of being a HiPo. It could also be noted as a way to reward and recognize them.
Aspiration is the desire to take on the new role and responsibilities. When an employee is engaged, they’re also engaged in learning. As they gain new knowledge and skills, employees will want to take on opportunities to use those new abilities. It's important to understand though, the difference between giving someone new opportunities to grow and just assigning them extra work.
Getting the most from high potential employees
To get the most from high potential employees, organizations need to develop activities that cultivate these three qualities: engagement, ability, and aspiration. Here are a few things to consider:
1. Regular feedback conversations
When in doubt about how to get the most from a HiPo, ask them! This is a good time to point out that HiPo employees aren’t all in the same age group or same place in their career. To properly engage a HiPo employee, it might take some dialogue (and that’s a good thing.)
2. Talent pools
Some organizations might be reluctant to tell an employee that they’re a HiPo, similar to sharing that someone is in the succession plan. But the company wants to develop the individual. Talent pools are a way for employees to gain the skills that both the company and employee need without locking into a specific career path.
3. Employee coaching
Often HiPo employees have a clear vision of where they want to go in their career, they just need someone to help them get there. Coaching is a method focused on developing action plans and accountability. Coaches, whether they’re internal or external, help employees achieve their goals.
Unlike coaches, mentors are subject matter experts in their field and their role is to pass along knowledge. For HiPo employees with many transferrable skills but no real sense of where to apply their energy, mentors could be very valuable in helping a HiPo employee find their niche.
Don’t lose out on what HiPos have to offer
High potential employees exist in every organization. The question is, has the organization identified them and put a plan in place to develop their engagement, ability, and aspiration? It’s possible that cultivating their talents can be done with existing programs like regular feedback loops. Or that mentoring programs, which would benefit the entire organization, would provide extra benefits to the HiPo employee.
Companies really cannot afford to ignore their HiPo workforce. Because if they don’t pay attention to them, another company probably will.