• Mar 13 2024

How to identify high-potential (HiPo) employees

Distinguishing high potential from high performer

High performers are the backbone of your organization’s success, consistently delivering strong results in their current roles. They excel in tasks and projects, consistently meeting or exceeding expectations. However, being a high performer doesn’t necessarily translate to having high potential to lead.

On the other hand, high-potential employees (HiPos) exhibit not only outstanding performance but also the initiative and skills necessary to navigate leadership challenges. They demonstrate qualities such as forward thinking, problem-solving, and a willingness to take on new responsibilities.

To clarify this distinction, let’s consider an example: a high-performing sales representative consistently exceeds sales targets and receives accolades for their individual achievements. While their performance is commendable, it doesn’t guarantee their ability to lead a team effectively. In contrast, a high-potential employee may not have the same level of individual success but shows promising leadership qualities such as mentoring colleagues, proposing innovative ideas, and displaying a strategic mindset.

Transitioning into a managerial role requires more than just exceptional performance. It demands a diverse set of skills, including stellar communication, conflict resolution, decision-making, and strategic thinking. Some high-performing employees may struggle to step into management positions despite excelling as individual contributors. Recognizing this distinction is crucial to preventing the promotion of individuals unsuited for leadership responsibilities.

Companies committed to developing their managers will offer training and support to ensure successful transitions. This may include HiPo development programs, mentorship opportunities, and coaching sessions tailored to the specific needs of each individual. Regardless of their initial strengths or weaknesses, continuous learning and adaptability remain essential for managers to thrive.

4 ways to identify HiPos

Discovering your future leaders is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. Your selection criteria may include factors such as job performance, peer relationships, ability to learn and apply new skills and technologies, and emotional intelligence. 

Implementing a combination of methods will help paint a comprehensive picture of employees with untapped potential for a fuller picture of their abilities, attitudes, and areas for professional growth. Here are some effective approaches to consider:

1. Review their job performance

Traditional performance reviews: While not foolproof, performance reviews of employees by their managers offer valuable insights into past performance, goal achievement, and work ethic. Look for individuals who consistently exceed expectations, demonstrate initiative, and possess a strong desire for growth.

Standardized assessments: Personality, aptitude, and leadership assessments can provide objective data on an individual’s strengths, weaknesses, and potential for development. Choose assessments validated for an employee’s specific organizational function and industry.

2. Assign projects and stretch opportunities

Assign challenging projects beyond employees’ current roles to assess their problem-solving skills, decision-making abilities, and ability to lead and collaborate effectively under pressure.

3. Conduct 360-degree feedback

Create a channel that encourages open, constructive feedback from peers and managers on an individual’s leadership potential, communication skills, and ability to motivate others.

4. Behavior observations & informal interactions

Observe their interactions with colleagues and clients: Look for individuals who naturally take the initiative, build rapport, and demonstrate empathy and effective communication skills.

Engage in informal conversations: Talk to promising individuals about their career aspirations, learning goals, and their vision for the future. This can reveal their ambition, strategic thinking, and values alignment.

Remember not to let hidden biases or limited access hinder the discovery of talent! Actively seek out potential across all demographics and backgrounds, providing equitable opportunities for everyone to showcase their capabilities and contribute to your organization’s future.

Finding future leaders is an ongoing journey with no single method guaranteeing success. Regularly evaluate and refine your methods based on what works best for your organization and industry. 

Unlock the full potential of HiPos in your organization! Download our free 8-step blueprint for HiPo development. Gain expert insights and actionable strategies to design, implement, and manage a successful HiPo program.


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