Why High Potential Employees are Some of Your Company’s Best Assets

CoachHub · 13 July 2021 · 8 min read

It takes top talent to make a business into an industry leader. Well-trained high potential employees can make a massive difference to an organization’s long-term success. Learn how to find these exceptional individuals and hone their business abilities in the post below.

A business is only as good as its best employees. According to HBR, the top 20% of employees within any organization are responsible for 80% of that company’s output. The more you can do to improve the skills of these elite workers, the better your company will perform.

Scouting for and investing in high potential employees (or HIPOs) allows your company to make the most of this high-yield segment of your workforce. With early identification and the right corporate university training, these employees can be shaped into powerful professionals with the ability to drive tangible results for your organization.

Characteristics of High Potential Employees

High potential employees are workers who have the right combination of traits to succeed in complex high-value roles. These brilliant employees are your future managers and executives. These people are typically:

  • Ambitious
  • Adaptable
  • Creative
  • Analytical
  • Motivated
  • Comfortable taking charge
  • Observant and detail-oriented
  • Independent thinkers
  • Quick learners with excellent memory
  • Perfectionists (sometimes to the point of fearing failure)

Most HIPOs know that they have what it takes to rise high in the ranks of the corporate world, and many pursue that goal independently. However, some do not have that self-confidence. Others recognize their own potential but do not know how to translate their skills and ambition into vertical career mobility.

These reluctant HIPOs can be difficult to identify, but they will ultimately develop just as well as the more obvious candidates. All HIPOs benefit from the support of a dedicated employer who wants to see them succeed. These employees should be a special focus of any corporate training programs aimed at developing talent within your organization.

The Importance of High Potential Employees

Seeking out high potential employees early on will eliminate a lot of future stress for your organization. Every company needs competent people in leadership roles to help it develop and expand as the years go by. However, many organizations wait until one of these positions is empty to start worrying about how they will fill it.

This may seem sensible, but it is actually a shortsighted decision. It may take you months to find a good external candidate to take over this role, and even when you do find one, it will take time for them to adjust to the requirements of the position. Without these key workers at the helm, your company may begin to lose sight of its purpose and goals. Its progress will be hindered and it may never flourish the way it could with the proper guidance.

The best way to avoid this is to have internal workers ready to fill those positions as soon as they become available. This ensures that there will never be any gaps in your leadership and that those who take over these roles will always be familiar with how things are done within your company. Prioritizing HIPOs in your talent acquisition process gives you access to a pool of candidates you can develop to suit your company’s needs and slot into these key roles at the appropriate time. With a strong employer branding strategy, you should have many of these desirable workers hoping for a chance to join your ranks.

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Distinguishing Between High Potential and High Performance

It is important to keep in mind that while the two often overlap, high performance and high potential are not the same thing. An employee may perform well in their role and even achieve exemplary results without necessarily being a high potential employee.

The main thing that distinguishes high potentials from high performers is their soft skills and their strong capacity for leadership. Managerial and executive positions require quick, strategic thinking and strong interpersonal abilities above all else. While it is helpful for the HIPOs you train to have good hard skills as well as soft ones, not all of these exceptional individuals will possess both. Conversely, not all of your high performers will have the aptitude they need to rise higher.

Some HIPOs will be merely average performers and some may even struggle in lower roles. This is usually not due to a lack of ability, but rather a lack of stimulation. HIPOs excel when they are given interesting and complex tasks that force them to think outside the proverbial box. Working on simple or routine tasks for too long often frustrates them and leads to motivational issues that mask their true nature. Don’t overlook these individuals. They may surprise you with what they can do when they are given tasks that are appropriate for them.

You can discover some of the strengths of low-performing HIPOs by giving them a DISC assessment. DISC is the superior option in the DISC vs MBTI debate because it evaluates behaviour over psychology. This may help to reveal a mismatch between your HIPO’s abilities and their current work assignments.

Identifying High Potential Employees

Organizations may use any of the following tools to find high potential employees within their ranks:

  • Roleplays and simulations
  • Aptitude tests
  • Judgment tests
  • Interviews
  • Psychometric evaluations like DiSC assessments

Ideally, these measures should be incorporated into your company’s onboarding process. The sooner a HIPO is identified, the more effective the training you provide will be. You can even incorporate some of this identification process into your talent acquisition strategy to ensure that you never pass over one of these coveted hires during your search for new job candidates.

Managing High Potential Employees

High potential employees rarely respond well to authoritarian management tactics. Due to their high intelligence and independent spirits, they are likely to have their own ideas about what needs to be done and when. Some may outright resist any attempts to get them to follow standard procedures, especially if they think they know a way to accomplish the same goals more effectively. Others may follow directions more easily, but will also stifle their own potential while doing so.

The best way to manage a high potential employee is to let them have the input they crave. Give them direction, but make it clear that you genuinely want to hear their thoughts whenever they decide to chime in. This does not mean that the manager must cede control to the HIPO. Managers must assert their authority and remain accountable for every decision they make, regardless of whether those decisions were made based on a HIPO’s input. However, when a HIPO’s ideas lead to a noteworthy success, it is important to give them the recognition and praise they deserve for their contribution. This builds their confidence and sets them up for success as future managers and leaders.

You should also be wary of any jealousy or rivalries that may develop between your high potential employees and their co-workers. HIPOs are exceptional by nature, and their stellar performance can be intimidating to their peers. Even managers sometimes fall victim to this type of competitive thinking. Fostering a sense of cooperation and teamwork among your employees is critical to maintaining a stable, productive working environment.

Fostering High Potential Employees’ Development

HIPOs will not grow into the highly competent leaders you need them to be without some help from you. That’s where development programs come in. By carefully shaping the career development of HIPOs in your organization, you can ensure that this crop of workers is trained to your specifications and can do exactly what you need them to do right from the start. Doing this will also keep employee retention high over the years and strengthen your employer brand.

Creating a High-Potential Program Framework

A development program for HIPOs should include all of the following elements:

  • Career mapping. HIPOs thrive on high expectations and upward career mobility. Give them something to shoot for by working with them to develop a career map for their time within your company. This plan should include information such as which roles they are expected to take on in the future and what development opportunities will be available to them to help them on their way.
  • Targeted challenges. HIPOs need stimulation, so give them the challenge they crave. Present them with a mix of project-based experiential learning and rotation programs to help them experience a wider range of tasks. Business simulations can also be employed to see how they solve unconventional problems.
  • Access to self-guided training. HIPOs have the curiosity and the motivation needed to make the most of self-paced learning. Technologies like innovative learning and mobile learning work very well for them because they allow them to stretch their intellect in new and interesting ways. Be sure to include training for both soft and hard skills in their array of course options.
  • Structured, regular feedback. Professional development isn’t possible without detailed feedback. HIPOs should receive regular reports from their direct supervisor outlining what they have been doing well, what they still need to work on, and what the next steps are in their development journey.
  • Corporate coaching. Every employee has their own strengths and weaknesses, but you want your HIPOs to be as well-rounded as possible. Coaching can help them discover where they excel and where they struggle, then work to reinforce their weak points while also developing their unique talents.
  • Frequent networking opportunities. As the saying goes, business is just as much about who you know as what you know. Your HIPOs will need an extensive network of both internal and external contacts to rise to the top of their game in the years to come. Networking not only forges relationships that may help them to broker new deals in the future, but also provides opportunities to find a mentor who can guide them in their professional development.

Coach Your Crop of High Potential Employees Today

Coaching your company’s high potential employees is a forward-thinking decision that will solidify your company’s leadership in the years to come. It is never too soon to start this vital process, and CoachHub can help you do it. Our digital coaching programs help employees to develop a variety of soft skills that are critical to business success. It would be our pleasure to help your HIPOs blossom into the capable leaders we know they can be.

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