Five Dos and Don’ts of Managing High Potential Employees

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May 27, 2015

As the War for Talent rages, ensuring the success of high potential (HiPo) employee programs is more important than ever.

Many companies still struggle to successfully identify, assess, develop and shepherd the careers of their top talent to fill leadership gaps, and drive growth and innovation throughout the organization.

While every organization is different, here are three of the most common pitfalls in managing a HiPo program and advice on how to avoid them.

But, DON’T confuse high performance with high potential.

It’s more than past performance

All high potentials are high performers, but not all high performers are high potentials.

Excluding some high performers from the HiPo list isn’t an easy decision to make, but in the long run, culling your list to just high performing/high potentials will serve you well. In fact, research indicates that only about 20 percent of high performing managers are rightfully considered to have high potential for advancement.

Past performance is important – and you need to take it into account – but it’s not sufficient. Make sure you’ve thoughtfully considered the criteria you’ll use to identify HiPo talent.

1. DO utilize formal assessment methodologies

Solicit leadership input to create an initial list of candidates and then confirm with a multi-trait assessment of the individuals to assure accurate selection.

Gut feelings, observations and intuition are fine, as long as they’re matched by proven HiPo assessment methodologies that can measure for essential characteristics such as career drive, aspiration, agility, flexibility, and organizational confidence.

2. DON’T use outdated success profiles

Be sure to regularly revisit and update your HiPo success profile for validity and relevance. The required knowledge, experience, personal attributes and leadership capabilities required for HiPo program participation may change over time as the marketplace and organizational priorities evolve.

Don’t fall victim to identifying, assessing and developing your future leaders based on capabilities better suited for your company’s past or present, rather than for its future.

3. DO regularly & meticulously assess HiPo criteria

Few things are more important than leadership succession planning.

Define the critical traits for success in key roles over a three to five year horizon. Focus on four to seven essential requirements — the core criteria that, if possessed by a critical mass of leaders, will propel your organization toward success.

Revisit your model every year to account for new challenges, and seek out external factors and research to inform your success profiles.

4. DON’T promote from outside your HiPo talent pool

Promoting from outside your HiPo talent pool will undermine the credibility and trust in your program.

When HiPos aren’t nurtured under a structured process providing meaningful assignments, consistent feedback, development and career opportunities, they may lose faith in the company and leave to pursue careers elsewhere.

You’ve invested considerable time, energy and money to identify and develop your future leaders – why squander it and risk your entire program by not remaining true to its intention?

5. DO create a credible, structured development program

Senior executives should be meaningfully engaged with the program so they can help insure HiPos are being developed with the right capabilities.

In addition to educational activities, HiPo initiatives need to include job-based exposure and stretch experiences so these future leaders are prepared to function in new positions as they become available.

Develop trust and confidence in your program by not allowing exceptions from the HiPo ranks when nominating individuals for new leadership positions.

The post originally appeared in a somewhat different form on

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