Engaging high potential employees – it’s not as simple as it sounds

Posted by Lewis Garrad on Wed, Jan 25, 2017

6pf6daiwz48-rayi-christian-wicaksono.jpgCoaching high potential employees to find impact, challenge and meaningful relationships at work can help create stronger motivation, commitment, and retention.

If identifying high potential employees is the most important talent management challenge that companies face, it’s arguable that creating a compelling career for high potentials comes in at a close second. With so many dollars spent on programs to develop leadership succession and capability, it’s important to get a good return on your investment. Keeping top talent learning, motivated, and committed is critical to doing that. 

Many organizations understand this but the basic assumption seems to be that the expanded opportunities afforded to someone who has been identified as top talent should be enough – this most often includes increased access to senior leaders, special projects, and extra training. However, with so much passive job seeking these days (thanks to sites like LinkedIn) and an increasingly diverse workforce to deal with, leaders often find that their programs are not helping to create the “stickiness” they need. Indeed, in Sirota's own projects we find that top talent is rarely more positive about their organization than the average employee.

So how can programs be designed to boost success? Once the science of talent and personality assessments help you make good decisions about what candidates to pick, the science of engagement should help you to get them to stay. Here are three key issues that you should consider:

  • Give them the right feedback. Tagging someone as top talent usually means directing more investment and attention to them. This can be a double-edged sword as colleagues can notice the imbalance of resources that are being used for their development. Highly confident and ambitious characters, who get themselves noticed easily, might even start to act in more self-centered and entitled ways. As the fascinating research into toxic employees shows, there’s no point having a superstar if they suck performance from other members of their team. Although it’s tempting to want top talent to feel they are special, it’s rarely helpful if they start to act like it. If you want your high potentials to have productive careers then they need to learn how to get along with others, as well as get ahead in their jobs. That means ensuring they get feedback to understand the impact they have on colleagues and providing coaching to help them adapt to it. The benefit of this is that it will help to strengthen the relationships they form at work, boosting their sense of belonging.
  • Challenge them in the right way. Many high potentials are given special assignments to stretch them into new areas. This can be a great way to engage them with impactful and challenging projects. However, there is some nuance to this and research shows that while some work demands actually help to boost motivation and focus (challenges - like complex problem solving or tight deadlines), others are draining and exhausting no matter what (barriers to performance - like interpersonal conflict or highly ambiguous goals, leading to uncertainty). In a recent survey, many high potentials also said they feel significant additional pressure to get things right more often. We should remember that burnout and exhaustion is a substantial risk for high potential employees who ambitiously pursue the extra projects that they are given, while at the same time being exposed to the watchful eye of senior leaders who are constantly judging their performance. Ensuring that development programs and projects are built around the balance of resources and demands facing the participants is an important part of keeping them engaged. And remember, just because someone is able to handle a tremendous amount of pressure, that doesn’t mean they are always a good fit for more senior roles – particularly if they need to be able to empathize with overwhelmed subordinates.
  • Meaning and purpose. Although it has become rather cliché to talk about the importance of meaning and impact in the workplace, there should be no doubt that it makes a difference. People will often use the pursuit of higher-level purpose or vision to buffer against the shorter-term impact of stressful or boring work on their motivation. So, while many high potential programs might emphasize the increased influence, development, and even reward that high potentials have access to, it’s important that a clear connection is also made to achieving a broader career impact and purpose. This means ensuring that leaders and managers understand that their role in developing top talent isn’t only to talk to them about their performance, but also to help them think through their development toward their broader career goals.

While the additional investment that high potential employees receive is a privilege, the market for talented individuals means that competition is fierce. Helping high potentials to design their careers in a way that brings stronger impact, rewarding challenges, and better relationships can help boost engagement and retention.

To learn more about how the personality of high potential employees influences engagement of team members, check out The Engaging Leader.

Lewis Garrad, a chartered organizational psychologist, is the Growth Markets leader at Mercer|Sirota. He specializes in the design and deployment of employee attitude research programs, feedback interventions, and talent strategy. Follow him on Twitter.

Topics: leadership, high potential leaders, talent management, engagement, high potential, high potential employees, high potentials, high potential program, talent

Potential Is Not Performance

Posted by Hogan Assessments on Wed, Jan 18, 2017

Identifying and developing high potentials — employees ready to take the leadership reins when someone gets promoted, steps down, or gets fired — is the single greatest talent management challenge organizations face today. The problem is, most organizations are really, really bad at it. Practitioners rate themselves as effective at identifying high potentials only about 50% of the time. That means many high-potential identification systems in place today could achieve the same level of accuracy by flipping a coin.

If your organization is like most, its high-potential identification program focuses — sometimes exclusively — on current performance. A recent survey found 74% of companies identify high-potential employees based on performance appraisals, and 68.5% based on recommendations from management. A separate study by Corporate Research Forum estimated that 73% of organizations currently identifying high potentials using one single data point — a rating or nomination by the individual’s direct supervisor.

“This is problematic for two reasons,” Hogan CEO Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic wrote in a post for Forbes. “First, organizations are not very good at measuring performance (once you eliminate subjective ratings, there are very few reliable metrics left). Second, even when they measure performance well, many top performers will fail to perform well at the next level.”

Performance measures tend to be subjective and biased by politics. Performance appraisals often reflect how much supervisors like their employees, and over-inflate ratings of actual job performance. As a result, individuals designated as high performers are often actually the best politicians, or what we call emergent leaders — the people who are great at building relationships, exerting social influence, and standing out enough to get ahead. The problem is that the qualities it takes to climb the corporate ladder aren’t enough to be effective as a leader.

Second, organizations tend to overestimate current performance as a predictor of future potential. The idea of leaning on performance reviews is that the best predictor of future performance is past performance. But as ClearCompany Co-founder Andre Lavoie points out in an article on Entrepreneur, although all high-potential employees are high performers, not all high-performing employees are high potentials. Research shows that only 30% of current high performers are actually high-potential employees, and most employees (more than 90%) would have trouble at the next level.

“When you transition employees from individual contributors to managers, or from managers to leaders, the pivotal qualities or competencies that drive high performance change,” Chamorro-Premuzic wrote. “Furthermore, many strong individual contributors are not even interested in managing or leading others, preferring instead to focus on independent problem-solving or being a team-player. The result is a paradoxical system that removes people from a job they are rather good at, and re-positions them in a role they are neither able nor willing to do.”

At the very least, wrongly designating a high performer as a high potential means you lose an excellent individual contributor. More than half of high-potential employees drop out of development programs or leave their employer within five years, and studies estimate losing a high-potential employee costs the organization 3.5 times his or her annual compensation.

At worst, promoting the wrong people can cause major engagement problems within your organization. Leadership directly impacts employee engagement. Good leadership creates engaged employees; bad leadership leaves employees alienated and demoralized. Engaged employees are energized, proud, enthusiastic, and have positive attitudes at work. Companies whose employees are engaged show higher returns on assets, are more profitable, and yield nearly twice the value to their shareholders compared to companies characterized by low employee engagement. Disengagement, on the other hand, results in an estimated $550 billion in lost productivity in the U.S. each year.

Put simply, performance is what you do. Potential is what you could do. Until organizations learn to differentiate between the two, it’s unlikely their success identifying high potential individuals will improve.

Want to know more about how to tell potential from performance? Check out our ebook, The Politics of Potential.

Topics: high potential leaders, performance, high potential, high potential employees, high potentials, high potential program, talent

Want to Learn More About High Potentials? We've Got You Covered.

Posted by Hogan Assessments on Thu, Jan 12, 2017

Leading up to the launch of the Hogan High Potential Talent Report, our CEO, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, authored numerous articles addressing human potential and how to assess it. Writing for Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Forbes, and others, here’s a comprehensive list of Tomas’s articles on the subject.

Fast Company -- Tapping the Potential of Your Company's Hidden Superstars

Summary: Despite all the talk about the war for talent, most organizations already have the supply of talent they need. The problem is, many employers are unable to either identify or engage those high-potential individuals.

Harvard Business Review -- Strengths-Based Coaching Can Actually Weaken You

Summary: Although there are no reasons to expect the fascination with strengths-based coaching to wane any time soon, organizations – and people – would be better off it did. This article outlines five reasons to be skeptical of a leadership development approach that focuses only on strengths.

Fast Company -- How to Get Your Employer to Finally Recognize Your Potential

Summary: It’s the job of every manager to size up their team members and evaluate their potential. That means understanding not just their current talents, but also their likelihood of developing them for higher-impact roles.

Management Today -- 5 Tips for Assessing Employee Potential

Summary: In an ideal world, your pipeline would be brimming with future high fliers, who will one day push your organization to new heights. Unfortunately, life’s rarely that kind. Here are five tips to help you find and develop your future stars.

Harvard Business Review -- What Science Tells Us About Leadership Potential    

Summary: Although the scientific study of leadership is well established, its key discoveries are unfamiliar to most people, including an alarmingly large proportion of those in charge of evaluating and selecting leaders.

Huffington Post -- Why Many Companies Are Failing to Unlock Their Future Leaders' Potential

Summary: It’s unsurprising that organizations devote an increasing amount of time and resources to the identification and development of future leaders. This explains the recent proliferation of interventions targeting HIPOs: the individuals who show the biggest promise for leading the organization in the future.

Forbes -- Four Things You Probably Didn't Know About High Potential Employees

Summary: There are four common mistakes organizations tend to make in their HIPO programs, namely mistaking performance for potential, and emergence for effectiveness; undermining the importance of development, and ignoring the dark side of personality.

Fast Company -- Three Reasons Why You Aren't Reaching Your Full Potential

Summary: “Inborn talent” is something of an oxymoron. Nobody is born with talent, as we typically understand the term, and we all differ in our potential to develop the skills and attributes that later lead others to call us talented. So why are some people better at developing their potential than others?

Fast Company -- What You Think Makes a Good Leader Probably Doesn't

Summary: We may think we know what qualities we value in those who lead us – and why – but companies and entire countries keep pushing less than stellar leaders into positions of power. How come? 

Fast Company -- The Often Overlooked Aspect of Getting Ahead at Work

Summary: Managing the tension between getting along and getting ahead is particularly important if you have leadership aspirations. Psychologist Robert Hogan defined leadership as “getting along to get ahead,” and he put forward a Darwinian framework for understanding why some people are more successful than others.

Fast Company -- How We Can See Past the Allure of Charismatic Leaders

Summary: A global survey evaluating everyday perceptions of leadership across 62 countries identified “charismatic” and “inspirational” as two of the most recurrent attributes linked to leadership. Yet there’s actually little evidence that charisma helps leaders be more effective. In fact, it often has the reverse effect.

Fast Company -- How to Turn Your Personality into You Career Advantage

Summary: With a bit of self-awareness – understanding how you differ from others and especially what others think of you – you can turn your personality from a heavy roadblock to a killer career weapon.

Harvard Business Review -- Talent Matters Even More than People Think

Summary: Clearly, some people are both talented and hard-working, but there is often a tension between the two. Talent can make people lazy because they need to rely less on hard work to achieve the same goal. Hard work helps people compensate for lower levels of talent, which is why it’s quite helpful to be aware of one’s limitations. But how much does talent really matter?

Management Today -- Do Nice Managers Finish Last?

Summary: In the corporate world, most organizations seem to have developed – involuntarily, of course – quite effective mechanisms for stopping nice employees from advancing to management positions.

Forbes -- Can Human Potential Be Measured? A Psychological View

Summary: The idea that science can be used to quantify our future performance is unpopular. The main reason is that it tastes of determinism and questions the strong lay conviction that we are completely free to decide our destiny, a conviction that is obviously irrational.

For more information about the Hogan High Potential Talent Report, visit hoganhipo.com.

Topics: high potential leaders, high potential, high potential employees, high potentials, high potential program

High Potentials: What works and what doesn't?

Posted by Hogan News on Thu, Jul 25, 2013

Focusing on employee potential maximizes organizational performance. So why do so many companies lack a comprehensive plan to identify, retain, and develop their high potential employees? Current processes for identifying high-potentials produce mixed results. We surveyed more than 200 middle managers and executives to find out what works and what doesn’t.

High Potentials

Topics: high potentials

Not Everyone Wants a Promotion

Posted by Jocelyn Hays on Tue, Jun 04, 2013

NoThanksWorking with managers and leaders across organizations and industries, I often wonder if they enjoy their jobs and truly want to lead others. Too often organizations promote talented individuals based on their capability to perform the job in question without considering their desire to perform the job. One critical piece of high potential models that I fear may be overlooked is the individual’s appetite for advanced responsibility. Forget for a moment about whether or not the person will do the job and consider if the person will like the job. A strong individual contributor may enjoy collaborating with others, but have no interest in supervising others. A high potential employee known for generating innovative ideas may prefer to work in one narrow area of expertise rather than applying those creativity skills to overall organizational strategy. 

Good help is hard to find, and it is certainly understandable that organizations who attract and hire high potential employees want to make the most of that talent. However, by placing employees in jobs for which they are a poor fit, you might inadvertently put an expiration date on their tenure. Over the years I’ve heard many stories of employees who chose to leave their jobs not because they couldn’t do the job, but because they couldn’t stand the job.

So, what are organizations to do? How can they benefit from employees’ talent if they can’t advance those employees to leadership? The most concise and most honest answer is, “I don’t know”. However, I do have a few ideas:

  1. Consider how high potential is defined. The characteristics that constitute success in one job may not contribute to effective performance in another job. You may need to adopt multiple high potential models to represent different divisions, levels, or jobs in your organization.
  2. Ask honest questions about what employees want to do and be ready to hear that upper management might not be their ultimate goal.
  3. When developing high potential employees, define and offer multiple career paths if possible. Let them know that you want them to be engaged in your organization and allow them to make a positive impact by aligning their aspirations with your strategy.
  4. If you find that your designated high potentials do not aspire to traditional leader roles, start looking at other employees. Your solid performers might flourish in managerial positions where your exceptional performers would flounder. 
  5. After promoting employees, keep an eye on them to ensure they are appropriately challenged and satisfied in their roles. Be prepared to make adjustments, as is feasible, so that you aren’t forcing individuals to stay in positions or perform work that is not a good fit for their natural work styles or core values.

What are your thoughts? Please comment on this blog to share your ideas and experiences in leveraging and retaining talented employees who don’t aspire to traditional leadership roles.

Topics: high potentials

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