November 13, 2015

Are you unlocking high performance?

Companies like to identify and nurture the employees they see as having high potential. This makes sense. We all want to retain our best people and enable them to drive the business forward by achieving what they are capable of achieving.

Some companies put a significant amount of time and resource into identifying and developing those perceived high performers, or HiPos, as they are often called. However, do organisations and the high performers reap the benefits? There are numerous pieces of research that question the value of HiPo programmes.

According to a report by insight and technology company, CEB Global, at least one in seven people on a HiPo programme shouldn’t actually be there – they are not true HiPos. Furthermore, 46% of leaders fail to meet their business objectives in a new role and 55% drop out within five years.

It’s not that CEB Global is saying that HiPos aren’t worth all the fuss. It claims that true HiPos are twice as valuable as other staff and 11 times more likely to achieve a senior position. The problem, according to the research, is that HR and the business aren’t going about the whole HiPo process the right way. It says only one in three organisations use hard assessment data to identify HiPos and that 46% of leaders don’t have systematic processes for identifying them. HR knows the system isn’t working – 50% of HR professionals lack confidence in their HiPo programme, according to CEB Global.

When Hay Group recently gathered together a group of big employers to talk about the issue of HiPos, something that emerged from the discussion is that organisations find it hard to differentiate between current performance and future potential. They are not the same thing, but it’s very easy for organisations to lump the two together, particularly when following the nine-box grid method.

So, what can employers do to ensure HiPos really are HiPos and will go on to deliver organizational success?

It’s important to have the right systems and methods in place for identifying future high performers. Know what the qualities, characteristics, skills and attitudes of high performers are. True high performers have high levels of aspiration and engagement, as well as skills and ability. Meet those aspirations and keep them engaged by giving them challenging assignments, developing their skills and demonstrating a clear career path.

Organisations that take HiPo programmes seriously and have really considered how to make them a success, offer accelerated and specialized leadership opportunities. They offer lots of learning and development opportunities, such as special projects, rotations, mentoring schemes and action learning.

Also important is knowing where those HiPos are potentially going to go in the organisation. Know what the business needs now and in the future and what top performers of the future will look like. Leave a HiPo to stagnate and they will be disengaged and jump ship.

A leadership survey by the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School in the US found that while organisations acknowledge that identifying and developing high potential is a business-critical process, nearly half (47%) said their current high potential talent did not meet their anticipated needs. And only 29% of respondents said they were ‘very satisfied’ or ‘satisfied’ with their current system.

It takes time, effort and a good understanding of talent management to develop HiPos and build up bench strength, but it’s well worth the effort when it goes right.