Common and Best Practices in Identifying HiPos

August 15, 2019 in
By Carol Wong

High potential employees, often abbreviated as HiPos, are those who are in the top 3-5% of the organization workforce, perform better than their peers, exhibit the organizational values, and show potential to become successful leaders. While it makes sense for companies to find their HiPos in their high performers, not all high performers are HiPos. Job performance is only a starting point to identify HiPos. Beyond that, companies also need to assess attributes and competencies that they value in their ideal employees. However, a benchmarking study which reviewed companies who are known for their top talent management practices found that less than one-third of them used assessment methods to actually identify HiPos.

In this post, we will discuss some of the common and best practices in identifying HiPos based on findings from scientific studies. According to Harvard Business Review, there were three general markers that are indicative of high potential in employees: ability, social skills, and drive.

Ability concerns employees’ potential to assume leadership roles within the organization. Beyond cognitive abilities, to succeed as a leader, it requires strategic thinking and the ability to adapt an organization for the long-term future. Therefore, it is important for HiPos to have vision and creativity, as well as an entrepreneurial mindset. Research suggests that 360-degree feedback, assessment centers, and personality inventories are some of the methods that are commonly used by companies to measure employees’ ability and determine if they do indeed have potential. 

The second category, social skills, reflects the growing need of collaboration and teamwork in today’s organizations. HiPos need to first be able to manage themselves—being able to handle pressure, react constructively to adversity, and act with dignity and integrity. Not only that, they also need to be able to manage others. HiPos are individuals who can establish and maintain positive working relationships, build broad networks of contacts and alliances within and outside the organization, and exert influence over a range of different stakeholders. Organizational network analysis (ONA) has been a new practice to identify high potential talent. By studying employees’ networks through analyzing their email, telephone, and in-person communication patterns, companies can identify those who play vital roles in daily operations, knowledge sharing, collaborations, and relationship-building within the organization. In a previous post, we highlight the power of collaborative networks.

Drive reflects HiPos’ will and motivation to work hard, achieve, and do whatever it takes to get the job done. An employee can excel at his/her job but may not necessarily have the desire to take on a leadership role. Drive can be assessed by standardized personality instruments that measure conscientiousness, achievement motivation, and ambition. It can also be identified based on employees’ behaviors. Proactivity has become a variable of interest in the talent management literature. HiPos tend to be proactive—they are more likely to take initiatives and plan for the future, instead of waiting until a crisis occurs to problem solve. They are the ones who seek feedback from clients and managers to improve themselves, take on challenging job assignments, and are always willing to learn new things in order to accomplish tasks. 

Not many employees possess all three markers. When companies can accurately identify HiPos, the employees who are highly able, socially skilled, and driven, they can more effectively invest their resources in developing these employees.


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