How to get the most out of your HiPos

One business psychologist weighs in on what employers usually get wrong about identifying high potential employees

How to get the most out of your HiPos
Psychologists have been evaluating human potential for over a century but HR practitioners have only “become obsessed with the identification of high potential employees (HiPos) of late,” said Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, business psychologist and professor at University College London and Columbia University.

“While definitions of potential vary, they generally concern probability, in particular the likelihood of making a substantial contribution to organisational output in the future,” he wrote in Forbes.

“To identify someone as a HiPo is to make a strong bet on their future, or expect them to have a bright future.”

However, he stated that most companies’ HiPos programs are not successful because 73% of top global corporations rely on the word of a single line manager.

“If the leading organisations in the world are relying on subjective and politically contaminated ratings … there is surely a great deal of room for improvement,” he said.

He then proceeded to list down four things that HR practitioners need to keep in mind when crafting a strategic HiPos program.

‘Performance is not potential’
Stop focusing too much (or exclusively) on performance, he said, because contrary to what you perceive, this does not equate to potential. 

“Performance is what you do, potential is what you could do. Being great at X does not imply the potential to be great at Y, when X and Y are very different,” he said. 

His advice is to evaluate the employee based on determinants of the new role instead of their “historical performance” in their previous role. 

‘Emergence is not effectiveness’
Most HiPo programs, he said, focus on potential for leadership but some companies tend to overlook the difference between ‘emerging’ as a leader and being ‘effective’ as one.

Being good at self-promotion, networking, and political skills are key attributes of emerging leaders but to be effective, they also need to demonstrate good judgment, empathy, and self-awareness. 

Look at individuals that fly under the radar, he said, because “they are usually the hidden gems”.

‘Development is universal’
Don’t discount the advantages of offering training and development, said Chamorro-Premuzic.

“Even when you identify the right people and effectively measure potential, there is always room for development. In fact, to possess potential means to have an advantage for displaying high levels of future performance,” he said.

‘Every HiPo has a dark side’
Don’t focus on HiPos’ strengths only. You also need to identify “derailing tendencies” in your HiPos because if they remain unchecked, this could create problems for the entire workforce.

“It is important to acknowledge that no matter how talented and promising your HiPos seem, they will always have some less desirable and potential disruptive characteristics,” he said.

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