Posts Tagged ‘Succession Planning’

It’s first quarter; do you know where your “HiPos” are?

In the strategic aspect of its role, HR has many opportunities to impact the future of the organization. Dr. Larry Phillips of Indiana University South Bend, posits that HR’s strategic role is “a proactive planning approach to assist the organization in designing its future.”  Certainly, during the recent economic downturn and resulting business downsizing, restructuring activities became the domain of HR professionals and their expertise was highly valued. Even during turmoil and resulting cost-cutting undertakings however, HR should assist business leaders in maintaining their focus on talent, especially high potential talent who will need reassurance and hear key messages in order to reinforce their commitment to the organization.

High Potentials, also known as “HiPos,” are those exceptional employees who seem to rise above most others in the organization. In so doing, they represent a potential pool of future leaders and are typically considered for future growth during succession planning exercises.

Spotting High Potentials

Among the traits to look for when identifying HiPos in the organization, the following three will provide a basic blueprint:

Performance – Going above and beyond on a consistent basis. The key here is consistency. One pitfall to avoid when declaring someone a HiPo is to judge their performance as “high” within a short period of time. After all, high performance is much easier to maintain at the beginning. As stated in my previous post, Rating vs. Ranking, performance is not enough to label someone as HiPo.

Potential – While some exhibit this trait more naturally than others, probably the most difficult aspect to gauge in someone is his or her potential. Some guidelines include the presence of Drive and Ambition as demonstrated by their frequent raising of hands for projects or additional work; and Engagement and Commitment as witnessed in their voluntary involvement in work teams or company-sponsored organizations, combined with their overall interest and involvement with the organization.

Vision – While having a demonstrated capacity to work effectively as part of a team, HiPos progressively seek positions of leadership within their own work, extra projects, or voluntary activities. They exhibit thoughtfulness in the task at hand and propose options while involved in problem-solving activities. They voice their opinions and make bold statements for preferring one option to another. In this way, they also demonstrate their decision-making ability. These are folks who rise to the occasion with thought leadership when there’s a gap or opportunity. Vision is a trait that is especially significant at certain levels, but must be cultivated early on.

After the Talent Review Exercise

Many organizations have some sort of process to identify HiPos, but fail to systematically follow through on next steps. Once identified, HiPos should also be tracked, but tracking alone is not enough. A plan must be put in place that lays out their potential medium to long-term path in the organization, development steps for readiness, follow up, measurement, and finally, activation of projected action or course-correction when necessary. Additionally, their professional profile, along with their own self-development plan, must be required to be up-to-date at all times.

Once the strategy is set, one common blunder in HiPo talent management from the HR perspective is to leave the execution solely to the managers. It’s true that it is the manager’s responsibility to follow through on the set strategy, but HR leaders must realize two important things: a) their roles as business partners don’t end with the strategy and their support and follow through will continue to be needed as managers execute; and b) while part of a HiPo’s development is to have a highly capable manager, not all managers fit in that category, and HR must be able to partner even closer with those who dont’t and eventually influence other changes.

It is also important for HR leaders to understand one additional role, which they can play in the careers of HiPos. While part of the development strategy should include work mentors, HR leaders can function as coaches. After all, HR typically supports coaches for executives. But while this option may not readily be available for lower ranking HiPos in the organization, HR can and should be capable of fulfilling this role then. This high-touch approach must not be seen as “handholding” by any measure, but as a true demonstration of the organization’s commitment to the career growth of its future leaders.

As they continue to grow in their careers, they will hopefully recognize the importance of knowing how to spot and develop others and they will effortlessly provide the same level of support they themselves benefitted from early on.

To Tell or Not to tell

Once HiPos have been identified and a plan has been laid out, one question that remains is whether or not to disclose their status to HiPos. Even when their manager is working the development plan with them, their HiPo status may not always be apparent to this selected group. In addition, there are other high performers who should receive due attention and may participate in some of the activities reserved for High Potentials. Either group might suspect their high potential status. But, should they be told?

There are two schools of thought on this dilemma with pros and cons with each.

To Tell – With this option, HiPos are openly informed of their status along with their formal plan for development, and checkpoints are put in place along the way for successful progression.

PRO: It sends HiPos a clear message that their contributions and potential have been noticed and that the organization is committed to further investments in their career growth.

CON: Other employees may feel alienated, and there’s also risk in the HiPo becoming either arrogant or complacent.

What to do when choosing this option: ask for discretion on the part of the HiPos; set the tone that their status is conditional upon continued high levels of performance, development activities, and other contingencies; inform HiPos if they come off the HiPo list and the reason why

Not to Tell - Here, HiPos may be asked to get involved in certain activities as part of their development, but their status in not completely disclosed. Based on their high ratings, they’re obviously aware of their high performance, but they don’t have clear confirmation on how the organization gauges their potential.

PRO: There’s little risk in other employees feeling neglected.

CON: HiPos may feel slightly overlooked or may lack clear guidance over their career path, thus making them susceptible to the approach of competitors.

What to do when choosing this option: Since part of the goal here is to deal with the HiPos’ perception that their work may not be fully acknowledged or appreciated, business and HR leaders must work together to send clear signals without formalizing the message.

The final decision may depend on the type of company culture in place or the future direction the organization wants to move towards. Regardless of the decision, it should be unanimously implemented to avoid disparity across the organization.

Similar to the way organizations consult with their HR departments, "HR for HR" is a term used in some organizations as the area where internal HR staff may turn to when they need advice, counsel, or mentoring. is a site dedicated to further the understanding of HR's unique consultative approach, strategic focus, and people-oriented business alignment.