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The Forgotten Ones: How HiPros Can Get Lost in High Potential Identification (And What You Can Do About It)

Many organizations boast of their ability to select and cultivate key leadership talent. Their high potential leaders, also known as the “chosen ones,” are often showered with special developmental opportunities and support.  Meanwhile, there is an often-overlooked pool of talent ready to provide exceptional value through their expertise: the high PROfessionals (HiPros). Although many HiPros may not be able to – or want to – lead others, these individuals demonstrate potential through their evolving technical capability and by mentoring others to do the same.

Most organizations miss opportunities to create a specific strategy to develop this key group of talent. Some companies try to force-fit the conversation into leadership potential reviews, which can cause confusion. For instance, HiPros can erroneously get placed on a leadership path when it is viewed as one of the only options to attain visibility and related development opportunities.  When leaders fail to address the particular needs of their HiPro talent, these star players run the risk of feeling like outcasts and that they lack the support they need to further grow in ways that best leverage their strengths.

To maximize the engagement and value that these individuals bring, leaders need be intentional in identifying and supporting HiPro development:

To Begin, Know Who Your HiPros Are

Granted, some organizations have an engaging, learning-oriented culture that fuels everyone’s continued growth. Top talent – whether leadership or technical – tends to emerge and evolve organically in these organizations. However, if that’s not the case, the identification of HiPros needs to be approached intentionally, through leveraging a framework and by carving out specific time to discuss this talent. We recommend this not be done as a side conversation during leadership potential conversations, as it’s important that HiPros not get caught up in the competitive landscape of assessing leadership potential.  Instead, time should be set aside to focus purely on expert talent identification, paying particular attention to:

  1. Do these HiPro experts show the capability to continue to develop their talents?
  2. Do they demonstrate passion and engagement in their work, as well role-model the right behaviors and values for the organization?
  3. Can they convey their knowledge and skill to help others grow?

Ensure HiPros Know They Are Valued

A common mistake leaders make is assuming that their staff know they are appreciated. Often, leaders don’t realize a team member feels undervalued until it’s too late. Then, they usually have to resort to external motivators, such as money, to drive retention. Conversely, the most powerful tool a leader has is to make sure his or her talent feels authentically appreciated and supported in ways such as:

  • Help HiPro talent to envision a future within the organization. These days, a future career “path” may not be feasible at the rate of transformation and change in some organizations. Instead, leaders can encourage discussions on potential future roles and opportunities to leverage their talent to add value.
  • Understand what is important to individuals and support them. We typically recommend holding “stay interviews” or similar conversations periodically. During these discussions, show curiosity and seek to discover what excites your HiPro talent, both about the work and beyond. These conversations can also provide insight to how the employee would like to be supported and ways they would like to further grow.  Creating opportunities for development aligned to these conversations can be priceless in terms of the employees’ engagement and increased performance in response to feeling listened to, valued, and supported.
  • Ensure they are reporting to effective leaders. Most research, including our Best Boss Study, shows the relationship between the employee and their boss is the most powerful in the organization. This relationship should be one that is built on trust, empowers employees,  provides continual feedback, and recognizes achievements. Executives should ensure they select highly capable managers who will fuel their HiPro talent’s high performance.
  • Get creative in leveraging HiPro talent. It can be easy for HiPros to become siloed in their area, which can lead to under-stimulation. Even worse, some become sheltered and lonely. Providing individuals with opportunities to gain visibility and and leverage their talent outside of their immediate area of expertise can help to invigorate engagement and has been proven to generate innovative thinking.  This can be achieved through activities like continuous improvement initiatives, employee groups, presenting at conferences, and community causes (depending on the specific individuals’ needs and preferences).

In our experience, leveraging practices like these have proven to result in HiPro talent feeling like they have the support and environment needed to help them thrive. In addition, giving HiPros a development-specific focus increases the likelihood that this top talent will attract other expert colleagues to your organization, as well as mentor emerging professionals around them. Experts can be difficult to come by – and retain – so we encourage you to spend time developing a specific strategy for this skilled group of individuals.

What do you do to recognize and nurture HiPros in your organization? Tell us in the comments below!

About Susanne Krivanek

Susanne Krivanek has helped many organizations and their leaders reach their potential through talent management, assessment, development, coaching, strategic alignment, and cultural transformation. She has been asked to share her innovative approaches at events such as Disrupt HR, the Association for Talent Development (ATD), and the Philadelphia Society for People and Strategy (PSPS). Susanne has also written articles for ATD and the Corporate Learning Network.

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