The Top 3 Ways to Drive Away High Potential Talent

I’ve been consulting in Asia for some time now and while many talent management issues are geographically specific, some transcend boundaries. How to nurture high potential employees is one such universal concern.  It’s as much a challenge for companies based in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland China as it is for those headquartered in London, New York and across the globe. Large multi-nationals and smaller organizations alike – only a select few have well-developed programs in place to grow a strong, contented leadership talent pipeline.


High potential leaders, or HIPOs as they are known, are individuals who are judged to have the aptitude and skills to grow into leadership roles that are one to two levels above their current positions, typically within a two to five year time horizon. There are a lot of fallacies about managing high potentials – and I see many of them in practice. Based on my experience, here are three surefire ways to drive HIPOs away from your organization and into the arms of your competition.


Keep their value a secret.  Many companies are secretive about their pools of high potentials for fear of creating a sense of entitlement. In fact, many talented individuals leave organizations every day precisely because no one ever told them they were valued.  Research shows that once high-potentials know they are high-potentials, they are more likely to stay with the company and less likely to look for positions elsewhere.


Assume that every high performer wants to be a leader. A common mistake in managing a HIPO talent pool is to assume that your high performers aspire to be leaders. Just because an employee performs at a high level, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she wants to take on higher level leadership challenges. It’s critical to have candid discussions with your top talent before placing them into the HIPO pool. Unless you uncover their true career aspirations, the organization may be investing time and money in someone who has no intention of ever moving into the higher leadership ranks.


Let them develop on their own. Most managers are uncomfortable having career discussions with high potentials because they have never been trained to do so. In addition, many companies lack structured development processes to help HIPOs gain the right experience. When high-potentials careers are not managed systematically, most will lose faith in the company and pursue their careers elsewhere. But, when they can see their future aligned with the company’s future, most will stay.


Bottom line, HIPO development cannot be left to chance. When companies look to implement a systematic methodology to accelerate leader development, we recommend an approach based on the 4Es (education, exposure, experience, and effectiveness metrics).  It is also crucial that organizations invest in developing the skills for managers to have effective career conversations and to equip their top talent with the capabilities to drive their own career development.  What has been your experience in managing high-potentials – or as a HIPO yourself? What works? What doesn’t? Let me hear from you.



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