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Living Up to Your High Potential(s)

Living Up to Your High Potential(s)

By Mark Vickers- i4cp

June 18, 2009

We didn’t expect it. After all, who has time to worry about high-potential employees these days? It takes considerable effort, patience and planning to focus on HiPos, and a lot of companies are otherwise preoccupied with the day-to-day urgency of surviving in a tough economy.

But good companies have a way of going against the conventional wisdom, and several i4cp member organizations recently came to us with ideas for pulse surveys that focused primarily on the selection and development of future leaders.

There are various reasons for this. First, in tough times, the need for effective leadership is greater than during the good times, when established organizations practically run themselves. If current leaders don’t succeed in times of trouble, someone needs to be standing in the wings. Second, as many organizations conduct layoffs, they must identify and retain the people they most urgently need in order to run their businesses. And, in an era of tight budgets, management needs to know who to compensate at higher levels.

Then, of course, there’s the matter of the enormous Baby Boom generation getting ready to retire, even as the almost equally large Millennial generation enters the workforce in earnest. Yes, many Boomers may need to put off retirement due to their badly eroded 401(k)s, but if the stock market and the economy continue to recover, this trend might not have a lot of long-term punch, especially when it comes to top talent.

So it shouldn’t really be a surprise that i4cp members want more research done in this area, since these companies often take a more future-looking, performance-oriented view of things than others do. One i4cp member company, for example, wanted to gather more information about high potentials in general and “early high potentials” more specifically.

We defined high potentials (aka, HIPOs or HiPos) as those employees for whom there is an expectation of outstanding performance and an aspiration for significant advancement. They show a willingness to do what it takes (travel, relocate, etc.) and an ability to learn and grow from learning experiences. Furthermore, management should have confidence that these individuals can successfully compete for significant advancement, and HiPos should demonstrate the organizational leadership qualities. We further defined early career HiPos as “employees with high potential for leadership, with fewer than 10 years of work experience.” Most (88%) respondents agreed with those HiPo definitions, with the number rising to 93% among firms that report higher market performance.


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