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High Potentials walk the Razor’s Edge – The down-side of being a HiPo

November 7, 2016
max potential speedometer illustration design over a black background

max potential speedometer illustration design over a black background

Seema left her manager’s office walking on cloud nine. She’d just been informed that she was on the HiPo pool of the organization and as a result would be put on the fast track. She felt pleased that her hard work and efforts had been recognized and that this would now mean she would be able to pull ahead of the pack.

Seema typifies today’s young leader. Hungry, ambitious, driven to do well, motivated by pulling ahead of her peers, sees social recognition as important and has a lifestyle that requires a constantly increasing salary. Her assumptions around career growth are generally vertical i.e. climbing up the ladder, governed by social norms and keeping up with the progress of her batch-mates.

Very soon, someone is going to assign her a short-term assignment or a job-rotation that is designed to develop her for the next step up in her career. And this is all to the good. The challenge however, is how often such practices fail. Because we don’t accurately measure such practices, there is little record or dialog about the perils of HiPo development.

When a professional accepts what is usually a “stretch” posting, they are driven by a desire to realize their potential and to get ahead of competition. What they don’t realize is how damaging such a move can be. In reality, the greatest risk sits with the individual while the organization barely risks anything at all.

potential2Should such a move fail, the individual (in most but not all organizations) will be labeled a failure, organizational memory is long and s/he will carry this stigma for the next few performance cycles, ’til the time s/he overcomes it with a stellar performance. Often, these failures lead to these individuals being dropped from the HiPo pool. Many times they result in an attrition.

In a similar vein, expat assignments are seen as developmental and they are. However, the challenges with expat repatriation are only now being acknowledged. A recent survey found that 16% of expats quit within 2 years of repatriation (up from 11% 3 years ago) and why not? Because 41% of them were placed back into the role they had left. The organization that went to so much trouble to develop them did not think to make use of their widened perspective and broader skillsets upon return.

razorsedge1So what can organizations do?

  1. Ensure HiPo fast track developments come with the following:
    • Transition support – provide a coach and a mentor (both). The mentor for helping them internally through the challenges of the culture and rapid adaptation to the new role/challenge. The coach to help them fast-track the acquisition of skills and competencies required to “scale up”.
    • An explicit conversation between the individual, line manager, senior leader and HR around the risks of the role and how they will be managed, including impact on the individual’s performance and career. The fall-back plan must be clearly discussed.
    • Articulate clearly the skills/competencies that the stretch assignment is supposed to build, identify clearly which aspects of the role will lead to those competencies being developed and ensure the individual is provided those opportunities. Many times the role is given but the exposure is limited, which ultimately leads to a waste of time and resource for everybody.
    • Buy in from the line manager who will lead this individual through the stretch assignment is critical. An explicitly articulated plan for the role the line manager will play exponentially increases the chances of success in such roles.
    • Executive sponsors must be assigned with a direction to check-in fortnightly in the first 2 months and monthly from then on. This will ensure the individual has a skip-level support in case it’s needed.
    • Peer support groups. Create self-sustaining support groups of 3-4 HiPos so that they can reference each others’ learnings and challenges.
    • The power of Alumni. Ensure previous batch HiPo’s take on roles as mentors to the younger HiPos. They will be able to provide powerful tips and advice on settling, navigating, emotional challenges and success strategies.
  2. Create a culture of tolerance for the failure of calculated/known risks. This will ensure such experimentative failures are not judged with finality
  3. Have strong expat return plans. Ensure they do NOT get back into the role they left but have a wider or more challenging remit upon return.
  4. Record data for all such practices over long periods of time so that the data can be mined for insight and corrective action can be taken based on longitudinal indicators of success/failure.

If you’re like Seema and just got informed that you’re on the HiPo pool, start talking to your leader/HR to ensure some of the above gets discussed and put into place as a support mechanism for you. All the best!

One Comment leave one →
  1. Amit Chand permalink
    November 19, 2016 3:09 pm

    Hi Gurprriet

    I just stumbled onto your blog and what a stumble that was! First off, I love your writing challenge/initiative (that’s how I got into it). Second, your insights into the mechanics of HR are amazing. And that leads us to the following.

    Now for the selfish part –
    I’m a content writer new to the HR space and looking to connect with thought leaders.

    Recently, I started working on an article which revolves around – The Effect of Automation on Indian Workforce and skills we can learn to stay relevant.

    I’d love your opinions on it. If possible, could you answer any of these?

    – Do you think automation and AI are a real threat to jobs in India right now?
    – If no, when do you think will automation become a real threat to jobs in India?
    – Which skills are going to be highly sought after in a year or two?
    – What technologies should employees as well as college students learn to stay relevant in the workforce of future(say, 5 years)?

    Warm Regards,
    Amit Chand

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