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Employee Engagement Performance Management

Engaging the HiPo: Handle with Care

January 26, 2015
4 min read
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Performance Management, Supercharged


It’s the stuff of succession planning dreams. Finding new company leadership by hiring for executive positions from within, filling holes within the enterprise by allowing strong leaders to emerge. Everyone would love for this to happen seamlessly, flawlessly. In reality, it’s much more difficult, so why do we continue to chase this difficult dream?

Because it’s great business sense. Organizations with strong leadership see growth in revenue. In order to see the business grow, the most efficient way for employers to hire new leaders is to develop from within. They can't do this, however, if their high potential employees leave before they hit these managerial positions. HR professionals are tasked with finding new up-and-coming leaders for their companies, but what are they to do when their employees with the highest potential drop out of development programs or get scared away by overbearing managers, lack of opportunity or simply impatience with the time they have to “put in”? Stats show that leaving a company can increase career earning power, so what’s keeping your HiPo workers within the walls of your office?

How to Recognize

First of all, managers have to understand that not all high performers are HiPo employees. Only one in seven high performers are considered high potentials. The biggest issue with retaining top talent is that many organizations fail to recognize HiPo employees before it’s too late. There are specific traits that distinguish them from the other top talent. So, when assessing high performing talent, look for these qualities to identify your future leaders:

  • Proactive with their careers
  • Demonstrate hunger for learning
  • Network effectively
  • Accept and act on feedback
  • Extremely adaptable
  • Dedicated to the company
  • Effective collaborators
  • Assertive and empathetic

Hard to Retain

If people are the most valuable asset to an organization, high potential employees are even more valuable because they lead the path to the company’s future. However, HiPo employees are hard to hold on to. Honestly, you want them, your competitors want them, and your business partners want them. Subsequently, if your organization can't keep them engaged, there's a heightened chance you'll lose them to another company. In fact, over half of HiPos - 55% to be exact - drop out of their company's HiPo development program.

Employees can see these programs as opportunities for professional growth. However, they can be a costly expense for HR departments to maintain if participants leave the program. It doesn’t help that 50% of HR professionals have little faith in these programs. Not to mention an overwhelming 5 out of 6 of them are dissatisfied with the development programs targeted at HiPo employees. So if the HR professionals have little faith in them, how can HiPo employees be expected to stay? While it is important to recruit HiPo employees to these leadership development initiatives, it's even more crucial to assess their career goals and their commitment to the organization.

It's a Different Kind of Engagement

There’s hope yet. In order to keep HiPo employees around long enough for them to see the leadership positions organizations so desperately want them for, you have to engage them differently at work. High performing employees are not necessarily HiPo; high potential employees are merely a subsect of the high performers. Even still, they require a different level of stimulation in order to stay engaged in the office. Take these into consideration when readying your HiPo employees for their futures as organizational leadership:

  • Stimulation - Mundane tasks don’t keep them engaged with their work. HiPo employees need stimulating work to keep them interested in their projects.  
  • Managing Style - Once HiPo employees are recognized in the office, it can be difficult for managers not to hoard their talent. Instead, oversee these employees from the executive level.
  • Challenge Capabilities - Incorporate HiPo employees in decision making processes to not only stimulate them, but assess their ability in a leadership position.
  • Recognize - Frequent recognition and differentiated compensation is more likely to keep HiPo employees engaged.

Recognizing HiPo employees isn’t easy, but it is necessary. While you may have a slew of high performing workers, only a handful of them have the particular set of skills and abilities to effectively lead a company. The bigger problem, however, is retaining these employees long enough to transition them into company leadership. Because HiPo employees are such a hot commodity in the workplace, employers have to stimulate and challenge them in order to maintain high engagement levels. Doing so helps to reduce the dropout rate from high potential development programs and subsequently, increasing the internal leadership hiring rate.

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