It is easy to confuse high performing employees with high potential employees (HIPOs), but they are not the same.
An article in Harvard Business Review called “How to Keep Your Top Talent” (May 2010) states that “only about 30% of today’s high performers are, in fact, high potentials. The remaining 70% may have what it takes to win now, but lack some critical component for future success.”
According to HBR, the litmus tests for discerning which high performers are also your high potential employees, are as follows:
1) Ability—High performers need to have the ability to not only do what they are doing now, but to take it to the next level to be high potentials.
2) Engagement—High performers must have “commitment to the organization to be prudent bets for long-term success.”
3) Aspiration—High performers who aspire to more senior-level roles and “choose to make the sacrifices required to attain and perform those high-level jobs” are aligned for future success.
These three traits together help to pinpoint the genuine HIPOs—those who have the ability, the engagement, and the aspiration for probable future success.
Of course, having these traits does not guarantee success, since leadership development is tested “under conditions of real stress.”
Many organizations test their HIPOs by identifying risky and challenging positions—developmental opportunities—and putting their rising starts in these positions to see who can meet the challenge.
These stretch positions are what I would call “the moment of truth” when people either sink or swim.
In some extremely competitive organizations, employee failure (contained of course in terms of organizational damage) is just as much valued as their success—because it weeds out the true stars from the runner-ups.
This can be taken to an extreme, where even strong performers are managed out of the organization simply because they didn’t win the next round.
However, rather than weeding people out and treating employees as gladiators—where one wins and another loses—organizations are better served by helping all their employees succeed—each according to their potential.
So instead of an “up or out” mentality, the organization can value each high performing employee for what they bring to the table.
Too often we only value the highest achievers among us and we forget that everyone has an important role to play.
While organizations need to differentiate their high potential employees—those who can really do more—to meet succession-planning goals—organizations will also benefit by nurturing the potential of all their high performing employees and taking them as far as they can go too.