Beyond High Potential

Most talent management initiatives focus on so-called high potentials, commonly referred to as Hi-Pos. Many organizations define Hi-Pos as employees who can advance at least two levels beyond their current position. If you consider the traditional bell curve, high potentials may represent up to 15% of the organization. At the bottom part of the curve, poor performers represent 15% leaving at least 70% of your people in the middle. Conventional wisdom is that organizations invest most of their Training & Development budget on the Hi-pos as the return on investment is greater. What about that 70% though?

As Human Resources professionals, we should be careful about labeling employees. While “high potential” is a common term applied to some people, I recommend you avoid the low potential label. All human beings have potential. Just as one cannot turn a fox into a leopard, an organization cannot turn anyone into a high potential employee. However, the company can provide each and every person with opportunities to demonstrate talents, skills and competencies which may reflect potential.

Who is responsible for employee development? Is it the organization or the employee? I would advocate that the employee is responsible for his or her own development and the organization must serve as a catalyst.

Certainly, as a catalyst, the organization can help to unlock human potential.

Not everyone wants to advance two levels and frankly, even if they did, the organization would not be able to meet the demand. Our goal as HR professionals should be to facilitate a process which helps each person reach their potential regardless of whether they are today or could become a so-called high potential employee. This begins with a conversation between the employee and immediate supervisor about career aspirations, strengths and developmental needs. While seminars, classroom training and furthering one’s education through a degree program are worthy endeavors, the most effective learning occurs from on the job experience. Short- term special projects, stretch assignments, task forces, cross training, broadening responsibilities and lateral job rotation are all effective ways to allow an employee to demonstrate potential beyond their current role. Some employees may welcome the additional opportunities. Others value stability and may simply be content to perform their job to the best of their abilities and remain employed in their current position.

Perhaps only a small percentage of your employee population will ultimately be designated as high potential and advance two levels. However, by realizing that every person has some potential and helping to unlock will strengthen your talent base, enhance organizational performance and help your company become a better place to work. As an HR professional, that’s the essence of your job.

Posted by Jeff Husserl, Managing Principal
Originally published in Workforce