How can leaders guide high-potential employees into robust careers that reward their skills? What about workers who show initiative and bring in results, but aren’t labeled as high potential? Jackie VanBroekhoven, an industrial-organizational psychologist and consultant at Hogan Assessments, offers her opinion.
What are the most common mistakes learning leaders make when attempting to accelerate high potential development?
VanBroekhoven: Lack of a formal process. The biggest mistake is often part of a more systemic problem that begins before the launch of a high potential program. Many of the issues stem from the lack of a formal high potential identification and training process. In fact, a recent survey showed only 56 percent of companies have a formal process for identifying and developing high-potential employees.
Too much, too soon. Many organizations are working to accelerate high potential development because of the rapidly aging workforce and concern that talent pools are thinning at an alarming rate. This can result in fast-tracking and promoting high potentials too soon or giving them stretch assignments without adequate preparation.
Lack of accountability. Ensure that development programs are not just an event, but an ongoing process. High potentials may receive a rich program experience, but after the program ends, they go back to their day jobs and lose focus.
Lack of feedback. High potentials report two distinct feelings upon receiving news they’ve been identified as a high potential: excitement and fear, usually in that order. They are proud and optimistic about the future but simultaneously nervous about how to prove themselves and whether or not they will succeed.
What are the consequences of those mistakes?
VanBroekhoven: When organizations lack a formal process to identify high-potentials, they tend to rely on their leaders’ intuition to spot and develop talent. The problem is, people tend to be terrible judges of character. What looks like leadership potential — boldness, charm and a willingness to step up and take charge — typically serve only to get the person noticed, promoted and labeled as high potential. These characteristics come across as arrogance and manipulative to everyone else.
How can leaders identify rising stars who are not labeled high potential?
VanBroekhoven: The best way to identify real potential is to stop relying on subjective evaluations of potential and start crunching numbers. We work in the age of big data. Organizations are sitting on a wealth of information.
Invest in big data. Design and commit to a robust data strategy and performance management infrastructure. Many organizations want to use objective high potential practices, but don’t have the foundation in place to look for data points.
Think outside the nine box. Think long and hard about how your organization defines potential, and ask yourself: Does your definition align with or contradict your current rewards structure? Does your definition support strategic goals and prepare your organization for the future? Imagine a generation of leaders who have been evaluated and selected against your high potential model. Will the people who fit your definition of potential give you a distinct advantage over your competitors? Does the model reflect your employer brand and/or organizational culture?
Broaden your net. Research shows only 15 percent of high-performing employees are high potentials, and this begs the question of what to do with top performers who aren’t necessarily cut out for people management roles. Does your organization have other critical talent gaps, such as thought leadership, internal consulting roles or product development leadership? If so, are these career paths as attractive and rewarding as senior leadership roles?
This article is the sidebar to Chief Learning Officer's feature, "Accelerating High Potential Development."