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Monitoring the Success of High Potentials

October 12, 2015 10:19 am

By Kaitlyn D’Onofrio

Photo by Shutterstock

Photo by Shutterstock

Old ways of measuring high potentials’ success are becoming more and more obsolete. With diversity playing a larger role in companies now more than ever, not all workers fit into the rigid nine-box that was often the primary way to monitor high potential success.

So what new methods are replacing the nine-box and others? Brian Fishel, SVP, Chief Talent Officer with KeyCorp (No. 49 on DiversityInc’s Top 50 Companies for Diversity), presented at DiversityInc’s Best Practices Recruiting High Potential event on Sept. 30 and shared how his company has used more modern and personalized ways that are becoming the new norm.

What is a High Potential?

Before determining the best way to monitor your high potentials, it is important to define what a high potential is. A high potential used to be classified as someone who could successfully advance one or two levels up in an organization. But today, according to Fishel, more factors go into the definition.

In order to be considered high potential, an employee must first be identified as high performing, Fishel explained. “If you cannot perform or deliver, how can you be a high potential?”

“Too often people’s nine-boxes assume potential equals performance,” he said. Rather, if your employee is a high performer, he or she will have the potential to go further in his or her career.

High potentials must also demonstrate ambition. According to Fishel, high potentials possess a strong desire to advance further in their companies. They will be the ones actively seeking out new challenges; if they succeed when given such opportunities, they are a high potential.

Personalized Approach

With so many different ways to monitor any employee’s success, it is important to pinpoint which strategies work most effectively for which high potentials. “The point of this is not to say, ‘Everyone needs everything,’” Fishel explained.

Fishel provided four main ways to identify and ultimately develop high potential success:

• Assessment and coaching. This type of analysis can be done with performance reviews, role based assessments, peer feedback/360 surveys, a one-on-one executive coach and assessments/psychometrics.

• Education. Learning can take place through quarterly earnings calls, external conferences/events, targeted skill building and leadership roundtables or development programs.

• Exposure. High potentials can receive exposure through business reviews/presentations, time with senior leaders, large meetings/conferences, skip level meetings and mentoring.

• Experience. For those who learn best through experience, leaders can use new/broadened assignments, executive “sponsors/mentoring,” external leadership opportunities (such as on boards or within community organizations), cross-functional projects and line v. staff/scope and scan.

Once you find what works best for your high potential, implement those strategies over a specific time frame, such as over the course of 12 months. Setting a time frame will make your goals less ambiguous and more likely to be attained.

Once a High Potential, Not Always a High Potential

Someone who has been identified as a high potential may not remain one for the rest of their career, Fishel warned. This makes continuous monitoring of these employees even more crucial.

Derailment is what gets you limited at, in trouble with or fired from your company. According to Fishel, there are several ways people may derail their own careers, including:

• Lack of growth. “They over-rely on one to two strengths, often clinging to past habits,” Fishel described. A sign of a high potential is someone who stays curious and seeks new experiences and skills. In contrast, someone who may be likely to derail “[has] obvious untested areas — challenges they have never faced.”

• Performance. Unlike someone who remains a high potential, those on the path to derailment “ignore or are ‘blind’ to a notable flaw(s).”

• Timing. In some cases, a high potential may simply move on to a different aspect of life. When given the choice between family and work, they may choose to devote more time and energy to their families.

Responsibilities of Senior Leaders

Identifying high potentials is much more than simply going to HR and asking for a percentage. It is up to the company’s managers and senior leaders to be aware of which employees are high potentials and then executing the strategies listed above, Fishel said. “Your high potentials deserve to be monitored by your highest performing leaders, because they deserve it and they will benefit from it.”

Failure to pay close attention to these employees may ultimately end with them falling behind and losing their status as a high potential. In fact, organizations and leaders may also be held responsible for a high potential’s derailment in some instances. “There’s just as much, if not more, accountability on the leaders,” Fishel said. Mistakes that can be made on the part of the organization include:

• Not moving people. If high potentials never receive the opportunities to rise to challenges, their potential will never be recognized and measured. “[High potentials] are the people you’re going to put in the most complex situations,” Fishel said. “And guess what? They’re going to succeed.”

• Allowing one failure to knock someone out. High potentials likely have a variety of skills, but there is still no such thing as a perfect employee. High potentials are not immune to mistakes.

• Defining development as training only. As stated earlier, not all strategies work for all everyone. Some high potentials may thrive from coaching, exposure or experience.

• Giving only or lots of “what you did” vs. “how you did it” feedback. High potentials have been shown to appreciate valuable feedback.

It’s also important for leaders to always use clear and consistent language when having conversations regarding high potentials, and to always ask the right questions. These may include not only “What are they a high potential for?” but also “Are we moving these people?” and “Are they being placed in the right roles?”

“It’s really, really critical … to really be clear and current on what you need out of that person,” Fishel said, “and, more importantly, what that person wants out of their career development.”

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