Just What Are You Doing With Your High Potential Employees?

© Andre Adams - Fotolia.com
© Andre Adams - Fotolia.com

The Wall Street Journal had an article recently saying that only 28 percent of companies tell their employees what they are ranked in terms of future potential (i.e., High Potential, Low Potential, etc.). From the article:

According to a report released Monday by consulting firm Towers Watson, just 68% of companies formally identify high-potential employees, and only 28% actually tell the employees they’ve been labeled as such. The survey was based on a study of 316 companies across North America.

“This is really a missed opportunity,” says Laurie Bienstock, co-author of the report. “You need to wonder how [organizations] are fostering the development of these high-potentials if they’re not informing them.”

Don’t you just wonder?

What you need to do with your Hi-Po’s

Let me tell you a little HR secret Laurie: employers don’t need to tell Hi-Po’s they are Hi-Po’s because Hi-Po’s already know they are Hi-Po’s. That’s one reason they are Hi-Po’s — they have great self-awareness. What employers need to do with Hi-Po’s is the following:

  1. Pay them. Above market, above average and (above low potentials within the same work groups) and make sure they know it.
  2. Challenge them. Give them lead positions on projects, putting them in positions to communicate to senior leadership and shine, getting them into the organizational “circle of trust.”
  3. Treat them differently. Yep, that’s right HR Pros – treat your Hi-Po’s differently than you treat your Low-Po’s, because they expect, they want it, they’ll appreciate it. It will tick off your Low-Po’s, and that’s a good thing – you need your Low-Po’s to be uncomfortable – because you’re in charge of making your organization’s talent better. You’re not running a charity event.

The other fact from the article — that only 68 percent formally identify employee potential — is surprising to me, and not that it’s low but that the number seems high to me.

Hi-Po, No-Po, Low-Po, etc. is a big HR shop game that is a luxury for most organizations. Is it critical for successful succession planning? Yes. It is also something that takes a ton of organizational resources to accomplish and maintain. Once you get that data, you then have to do something with it, and keep doing it. That usually means the development of an entire group within HR, depending on how big your organization is.

You gotta have a Hi-Po plan

So, 68 percent seems like an inflated number. I’m guessing the survey was given to only large corporations.

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Should you tell an employee what they are ranked? I have and I would, but it really depends on the culture and engagement of your organization.

The one thing I will tell you is this: if you have no plan on what you are going to do with this data, don’t start, because it will be a waste of time. I see so many HR Pros run down this path of determining who their Hi-Po’s are without any idea of what they are going to do next. It’s like “Hey! We found out Joe and Lynn are our Hi-Po’s! Isn’t that great?!”

No, not really, and so what? The real work comes after the identification in developing your Hi-Po’s into their next level position and building succession, because the real work is not in the identifying.

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.


4 Comments on “Just What Are You Doing With Your High Potential Employees?

  1. Great article Tim.  You are spot on in this article.  So many Hi-Po (great term btw) don’t feel like the company they are working for recognizes that they are different.  This becomes a motivator for them to look at external opportunities. As an executive headhunter, when I call to talk to a Hi-Po and I share that I have a group that wants to talk to them because of the potential that they could bring to my client it is like telling them they won at the lottery.   It is a bit ironic, since they often would rather just stay with the organization they are with, if only they felt the love. 

  2. Companies which aren’t doing everything they can to retain their high-performance people are only going to lose out in the future- they are going to overly burden themselves now, while trying to replace them!

  3. I agree about treating hi-pos well but take exception to the idea that low-pos should be uncomfortable. If you have correctly identified them as people lacking in the potential ever to perform at high levels, what good is demotivating them?  Why not skip the categorization and treat each individual as he deserves, grow each to his own potential, and get the best from everyone?

  4. I agree that you need to recognize your high-potential employees, but I think the low-potential employees could be high-potential, if they have the right guidance and motivation. 

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