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Build a robust HiPo Program in just 3 steps


Here are the key questions you must have clear answers to, black and white, with no shades of grey to crack a solid HIPO program.

Organizations are at different stages when it comes to creating mature High Potential (HiPo) programs, but what is clear is that talent differentiation is a necessary evil and getting it right is the key to deriving the benefits from leadership, growth, and innovation perspective. Getting it wrong can be disastrous for any organizations and can lead to the loss of key talent and a path of politics, confusion, and lack of transparency. Here are the key questions you must have clear answers to, black and white, with no shades of grey to crack a solid HIPO program.

1. Who is a HiPo?

Organizations need to define a HiPo in the context of their business. What are the qualities that are most relevant to the firm today and tomorrow that will hatch the next leadership cadre? Many companies use a mix of behaviors to define a HiPo, that includes three elements: firstly, past & present inputs (performance and achievements); secondly, leadership competencies (the fabric and DNA of the individual and, thirdly, their potential (ability to take on higher roles). Other organizations that are going away from the performance rating are moving into one single measurement of the individual and incorporating all three in one metric. What is critical is to understand what qualities we are looking for in a HiPo that will change from business to business, and it is extremely contextual to each organization (Stage of maturity, competitive landscape, and aspiration of the company).

For example, Ericson takes the vision 2020 and the business strategy as the base to define the kind of leadership they need for 2020. All HiPo programs and leadership development interventions align to achieving that goal. One of the qualities that have been identified as critical for Ericson to reach that target is “entrepreneurial leadership,” so that is what they are looking for in HiPos (among another 10 competencies). The process took over five months to look at the talent pool and identify those HiPos. In different businesses, at Genpact, their CEO, Tiger Tyagrajan has identified three behaviors that will drive the business to the next level: collaboration, digital thinking and being able to move across the spectrum from concept to execution.  For Genpact, HiPos need to exhibit these three behaviors and the entire selection happens around these competencies.

The starting point is always the end in mind: What are you looking for? If you don’t know what you are looking for, you will never find it.

2. How to find your HIPO?

The next step is to create a robust and transparent way to identify HiPOs. It is critical that the process is reliable and perceived to be fair by all stakeholders in the organization. That is why it is essential that you don’t move to point 2 until you are clear about point 1. Many organizations start with performance (achievements) as 1st level of filtering, then move to the competencies and qualities of the individual – either using leader’s council reviews or assessments (or both). This stage assesses for two things: the leadership DNA & alignment with company’s requirements and the ability & aspiration of the individual to grow and take on higher and more challenging roles. Typically, this process happens yearly and reviewed half yearly – while companies are also moving to move regular and on-going reviews.

In the previous example of Ericson, in their five-month process that they underwent to identify HiPos, they used an internal talent council to do the 1st level of screening, followed by talent boards to go deeper in each candidate and finally followed by an assessment center to validate the competencies with each candidate. In Credit Suisse, the process runs through the organization and adapts to the level of the individual. After they have identified top talent on the basis of performance/achievement/potential (“as is” today), then they measure this pool by taking them through the assessment center with the objective of assessing the individual with the competencies required for one level up. This exercise also shows the talent gaps and creates a foundation not only for identification but also for development.

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