Within progressive organizations, high-potential (HIPO) employees have been the mainstay of many talent management and succession planning system. Their elevated status from the general workforce often is seen as an affirmation of the qualities needed to fill critical leadership positions in the organizational hierarchy. However, such talent segmentation is also, often thecause of deep misgivings among their peers, and is widely seen as a latent way of rewarding “conformist” behaviors that hinder the “dissentient” nature required to boost innovation for staying relevant in a digital world.
The term “potential” itself signifies a penchant for risk, gamble, and uncertainty on predominantly “lagging” performance indicators. It also projects a more refined version of the dreaded “normal distribution curve” used to weed out the lowest performers within the talent pipelines. That frequently has been blamed for sapping the morale of diligent employees and incentivizing cannibalization of peer careers to secure sanctuaries in the “safer” zones of the respective talent mapping technique.
Such divisive measures inevitably create negative energy within a workplace that is manifested in several ways, including abrasive friction among peers, profound distrust of leaders, faked engagement in organizational initiatives, a hyperactive grapevine in corporate corridors, corrosive politics seamed within the organizational fabric, escalating attrition among disillusioned employees, damaged psychological contracts reflecting crumbling aspirations, and marginalization of inspiration triggers.
Proponents of the HIPO approach are quick to point out several advantages that have ensured its place within talent management initiatives. Let’s do a brief analysis of the more common attributes propagated in the defense of having HIPO programs, as follows:
The aforementioned analysis clearly shows that the HIPO approach, despite its trumpeted advantages, is inadequate to galvanize an effective talent management system for the digital world.
The “High Committments”
Consequently, the proposed term, HICO (High-Commitment), primarily rests on the premise of genuine commitment being the prime driver of all intentions and actions of a conscientious professional who is routinely tasked to overcome difficult challenges in a precarious work environment. It focuses on all the key features that are crucial to an individual’s ability to effectively utilize his or her talent in the most beneficial way while providing wholesome enrichment in the respective context. It goes beyond the assigned role(s) and incorporates other key factors with a significant influence on work and inculcates their influence in formulating a suitable portfolio of a strong succession candidate to core leadership positions.
Let’s take a brief look at the six key focus areas of HICOs:
1. Personal well-being
This refers to being highly devoted to all aspects of one’s own well-being while pursuing professional goals and objectives. Often, highly talented people tend to marginalize health concerns, hobbies and interests, family and friends, old contacts and acquaintances, etc., as they focus on career aspirations by embracing stressful conditions and trying to impress influential leaders with their professional abilities. However, such transient bonds cannot substitute for the time-tested relationships that generally are needed in difficult situations to provide strong and reliable support for a balanced approach to life and profound self-reflection to recalibrate priorities.
2. Performance obligations (KRAs/KPIs)
This reflects high emphasis on achieving excellence in the fulfillment of job responsibilities by consistently meeting/exceeding the defined Key Result Areas (KRAs)/Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). An enviable record generally is used as a barometer for assessing an employee’s suitability as a potential successor in key leadership positions. This HICO aspect is shared with HIPOs, who covet its magnetism in building a convincing case for their steady career progression. However, KRAs/KPIs are predominantly lagging indicators of success and not a reflection of how a person might do as a leader. Prominent doctors, renowned academicians, accomplished engineer and technical wizards don’t necessarily make great leaders.
3. Functional research and growth
This refers to being keen on advancing the field of professional interest. It includes active participation in peer forums, conferences, seminars, research projects and contributing articles on innovative viewpoints or techniques and approaches to facilitate the progressive development of the adopted discipline. This enables cross-fertilization of ideas and strengthens the innovative mindset to overcome multivariate challenges in the workplace. It also liberates the thought processes in envisioning novel ways of adapting to the dynamic demands of the digital world. Additionally, it helps to engage in an honest self-assessment of professional prowess that often is masked by the narrow demands of working in a particular organization.
4. Corporate social responsibility (CSR)
This entails possessing a high level of ardor for actively participating in the initiatives pertaining to an organization’s promise to be a punctilious member of society. It requires a penchant for service that goes beyond the professional demands of assigned tasks, and opens horizons for permeation of altruistic thought and meaningful contributions to the wider goal of ensuring a harmonious existence within the global community. Such engagement prepares potential leaders to be mindful of the citizenry aspect of the organization, which is essential for taking proactive actions in mitigating or eliminating missteps that might jeopardize the organization’s future in an increasingly sensitized and connected world.
5. Organizational imperatives
This refers to being highly dedicated to the strategic priorities of the organization. It calls for alignment of personal goals with the overall organizational objectives. Such congruence requires unflinching determination to ensure organizational success in a cohesive culture based upon progressive and robust shared values. It demands profound understanding of the key organizational challenges and unwavering confidence in the senior leadership to steer the organization in the desired direction. It is facilitated by providing the temporary benefit of loosening the stringent expectations of the psychological contract with the condition that top executives will not egregiously violate the element of trustworthiness.
6. Career development and progression
This alludes to being geared toward gaining a clear understanding of the available career paths and engaging in appropriate activities that ensure a steady rise through the corporate ranks. It includes timely realization of the changing landscape within the chosen professional discipline and getting the necessary training and development, coupled with relevant professional experience and pertinent academic credentials, to present a strong case for promotion. It also recognizes the need for astute networking and jostling for exposure in front of key decision-makers, who play a significant role in succession planning for critical leadership positions. An important determinant for recognition in the respective context is the firm grasp of skills that foster innovation, which has become the hallmark of the digital world. This HICO aspect also is shared with HIPOs, who generally consider and expect it as an integral element of reward and recognition, in addition to conventional compensation, for notable achievements.
Assuring a healthy stock of succession candidates
HIPO employees have become a divisive status symbol and attractive poaching targets for competitors, which has complicated the organizational development issues within businesses. HICO provides considerable relief in the respective context by providing a more wholesome, inclusive, and risk-mitigated application of an effective talent management system.
However, it remains to be seen whether progressive organizations can extricate themselves from the complacency of continuing with herd-mentality practices and muster the courage to adopt a more concrete way to assure a healthy stock of capable and reliable succession candidates for key leadership vacancies in the future.
I am betting that High-Commitment (HICO) will always trump High-Potential (HIPO).