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Being a "High Potential"

Being a "High Potential"

How do you treat high potentials at your company?

Dan McCarthy | Great Leadership

June 07, 2010

We make a lot of assumptions about “high potentials”, such as:

- They should be told that they are high potential
- They should not be told
- Their status should be informally implied
- If you tell them, it will be a motivator
- If you tell them, they’ll become more of a retention risk
- If you tell them, they’ll get complacent, or arrogant
- They should get more development than others
- They should get less development that others (they don’t need it as much)
- They want more responsibility
- They’ll see more responsibility as just more work
- They are great developers of others
- They don’t develop others, they’re too selfish

I’ve heard every one of these statements made about high potentials – from managers, HR, and those responsible for talent management. I may have even muttered a few of them under my breadth myself. But what about those who have been identified as “hipos” – have we ever asked them for their opinions on what being high potential means to them?

The Center for Creative Leadership did. During an eight month period from October 2007 through May 2008, information was collected from 199 participants attending CCL’s open-enrollment leadership development programs.

After having managed high potential programs and individuals for over 20 years, as well as my own direct experience as “one of them”, I found the findings to be very interesting.

Here’s a summary from CCL (you can read the full report here):

1. Respondents say formal identification as a high potential is important. Most survey respondents (77 percent) place a high degree of importance on being formally identified as a high potential in their organization. The study showed several clear differences between high potentials who have been formally named and those who are perceived to be high potentials. Notably, only 14 percent of formally identified high potentials are seeking other employment. That number more than doubles (33 percent) for employees who are informally identified as high potentials.

2. High potentials expect more development, support, and investment – and they get it. High potentials receive more development opportunities – such as special assignments and training as well as mentoring and coaching from senior leaders – than other employees. This is as it should be, according to the respondents: 84 percent of high potentials agree that organizations should invest more in them and other valuable talent. The extra investment is one reason why being formally recognized as a high potential is considered important.

3. High potentials feel good about their status – but it has its downside. Survey respondents generally expressed positive feelings about being identified as a high potential by their organization. At the same time, the designation isn’t exclusively a win for those in the pipeline. For some, there is a feeling of increased pressure or anxiety around high expectations or performance; others experience frustration around the organization’s unclear intentions.

Next: High Potentials are More Committed >>

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