Does existence of a HiPo program indicate that talent management has failed?


Everybody loves a HiPo program! In any organization, it is one of the most sought-after programs for everyone. Senior leaders associate themselves with it because they see this as a readily-available pool to induct (or poach) effective people into their own teams, and employees see this as a fast-track path to success. Everyone in HR wants to be part of the HiPo program because it is usually a high-visibility program and relatively less complex than other programs. But what does the existence of a HiPo program really mean? It means that organizational talent management has failed. Well, at least partially.

Sounds unreal? Here are my reasons.

Organizations hire HiPos and fail to manage them

What is a candidate’s status in the talent map at the point of hire? Every new hire is a HiPo. I repeat, every new hire is a HiPo.

Most often, there are no real measures to accurately assess a person’s performance in her/his current or previous jobs in the organization’s context during the hiring process. It is true that in some industries, there are standard measures of performance. For example, in the software industry where workstreams in several companies may resemble one another, some performance measures may be common. But beyond that, there is a lot of company-specific context to performance (such as culture) that cannot truly be assessed unless an individual is in seat. Hence, it would not be wrong to generalize that in most cases, a candidate is hired based on what value s/he can “potentially” bring to the team and to the organization. Well then, what does that indicate about the candidate’s status at the point of hire? Does it not mean that ‘at the point of hire every candidate is a HiPo?’

More importantly what does it tell about an organization’s talent management capability when, after a while, only a select few from this pool remain HiPos?

Should there be drumroll about having a HiPo program? Maybe not

Agree that there are several factors that contribute to why an individual falls off the HiPo chart. What is worrisome is the sheer size of a typical HiPo pool. The typical size of an organziation’s HiPo pool is 5%. This means that talent management has been able to successfully navigate the aspirations, engagement, and careers of employees, 5 out of 100 times. What it also means is that it has failed 95 times! So, is there any real cause for a drumroll about having a HiPo program?

Also, given the investments that an organization puts in every individual in a HiPo pool, it simply cannot afford a bigger pool of high potentials without the program becoming prohibitively expensive.

HiPo hype- Break ‘em

While, I am not arguing that organizations should scrap HiPo programs, it is important to focus on some more foundational and important aspects of talent management and break a couple of hypes.

Hype #1- Communicating HiPo status

Many research studies indicate that communicating HiPo status makes noticeable differences in the pool’s levels of engagement. No arguing that! But what does that mean for others in the team? How are their short-term and long-term motivations affected? Also, how will the communication of the HiPo status impact the HiPo pool in the long-run? We’ve heard of the positives of HiPo status communication- improved engagement, more business value delivered, and greater focus. Let’s hear some of the negatives- unrealistic long-term self-expectations, unusually large risk-appetite, and even at times- inflexibility to adapt. So the question is, “is the communicating HiPo status worth the risk?” Or is the organization only interested in short-term value?

Hype #2- Selecting HiPos

Selection of HiPos is a complicated exercise that usually start with manager nominations and end in talent reviews. The process assumes that all managers are equally competent to decide who in the pool is a HiPo. In a world where managers are the single biggest reason for attrition, I say that’s putting too much faith in them. ‘nuff said!

Have a HiPo program? Hush

While there are more reasons than one for why an organization should have a HiPo program, it’s important that the talent management team should make extra efforts to cover it. Talent management teams in many stellar companies have become effective at veiling their HiPo programs so that no employee feels either blatantly discriminated or preferred. In these companies, there are no secret e-mail groups. No instances where the whole office can see the Chairman and the Head of HR inside a meeting room addressing an unlikely team comprising a junior designer sitting next to the head of product management. And definitely, no Powerpoint slides with the words High Potential flashing blazingly through the glass walls of the modern day’s “transparent organizations.”

What do these talent management teams comprise of? I think they’re comprised of some really smart people!


Book review: The Power of LinkedIn

power of linkedin

I recently subscribed to a library membership and chanced upon “The Power of LinkedIn” by Jan Vermeiren and Bert Verdonck. Jan and Bert are both celebrities in their own right when it comes to expertise on professional networking. Both of them have written several books and spoken at professional events on how to bring an individual’s or an organization’s professional networks to life. As LinkedIn takes up more of my social networking time compared to any other platform (more than FB and WhatsApp), the book caught my attention. I consider myself an advanced-level LinkedIn user, having used most of the functionalities one can get from a free membership. I’ve used the platform to build my personal brand and create a global network of connections. That said, even for an advanced user, “The Power of LinkedIn” has several useful tips and recommendations.

I’m enlisting some of the key lessons that beginners, as well as advanced LinkedIn users, can learn from the book.

For LinkedIn beginners:

  1. Tips on how to set up a credible profile
  2. How to build and work towards a goal through LinkedIn
  3. The traps to avoid with LinkedIn
  4. The power of groups and associations
  5. The LinkedIn attitude- Thinking long-term

For advanced users:

  1. How to define goals and tasks
  2. Why features like SlideShare and YouTube are important and how to use them effectively
  3. Looking beyond 1st degree connections and ways to build a strong 2nd degree network
  4. How advanced searches can help find connections and potential employees
  5. How to build eminence through LinkedIn Groups

Overall, it’s a very practical and useful book with a lot of potential to change an individual’s approach toward professional networking. I’d recommend the book to anyone who wants to dig deep on how to unlock the platform’s immense potential.

The new balance: work-health and not work-life


Photo credit: British Columbia University web site

An SHRM survey recently reveals that employee preferences toward health are fast changing. Employers witness a rapid shift of employee preferences toward gym memberships and subsidies, yoga and dance classes, and health monitoring gadgets. Millennials in the workplace are leading this trend and employers are responding to these by increasing the scope of health benefits to include them as part of an employees’ overall compensation, even though fixed pay scales in the market remain fairly stagnant. While work-life balance has been spoken about for several years, the world is still debating about it. Many argue that the correct term in today’s work environment is work-life integration. Others are still struggling to find the sweet spot where work and life balance each other out. With leaders talking about holistic talent management and about the business of talent more deeply, the answer to the question of work-life balance may finally be revealing itself.

The employer should drive work-health balance- for its own good

As the trend of offering augmented health benefits is still in primitive stages, participation to company-sponsored health programs (such as gym memberships/subsidies, dance classes, fitness competitions) is optional and voluntary in most companies. While the number of employees opting to utilize these benefits has increased, many employees still choose to stay out of them. How many times are we guilty ourselves of justifying why work kept us from visiting the gym or taking the routine evening walk? How many of us have signed up for gym or yoga classes, only to drop out after 2 or 3 sessions because it felt like the investment was just too demanding? Here arises another crucial question, who is accountable for driving work-health initiatives- the individual or the enterprise? Has the enterprise done enough by provisioning these benefits to employees? Research indicates that in order to realize the full benefits of providing health benefits to employees, it makes business sense for an employer to also drive them. Here are some findings that support why an employer should drive work-health benefits for its own good.

  1. EY research indicates that work-life flexibility is the third highest driver in candidates evaluating a potential job after fixed pay and benefits.
  2. A survey by Quantum Workplace says that companies with company-sponsored programs have 44% more engaged employees compared to the ones that do not.
  3. Companies who proactively drive wellness save substantially on employee health costs. For example, J&J saved over $250 million in healthcare costs between 2002 and 2008 since the time the company invested in driving employee wellness among employees.

Change the buzzword: Work-health balance

Companies that change their employer brand messaging to reflect their commitment to employee health and wellness are able to build a much more emotional connection with future and current employees. It sends the comforting message across that the employer cares about each of its employees. Most talent strategies focus on the outcomes from surveys that indicate employee satisfaction. Gallup’s “Customer satisfaction doesn’t count” article indicates that satisfaction is useless without making an emotional connection. Investing in employee health and wellness is about just that- the emotional connection.

Employees too, can stop worrying about how to balance their work and life and instead focus more on balancing work and health. After all, it is always about simplifying life into “the one thing” that makes everything else easy.

What kind of a talent entrepreneur are you?

Entrepreneurs inspire people. After referring to several research studies, I came up with a list of five leading types of talent leadership approaches that entrepreneurs have. Answer the five questions in the following toolkit and quickly learn what kind of a talent leader you are. No leadership style is perfect, and it is worthwhile to be self-aware! Remember, there are no two choices. Select only one answer from every question.

Q. What best describes your talent leadership style?
A. I motivate people to come up with a new idea or improving an existing idea
B. I look to identify key talent inside the company who can take the business forward
C. I always inspire everyone to think and love our purpose and goals
D. I continuously push people to question how we do things
E. I continuously inspire people to understand what the customer wants

Q. What is the primary thing you look for among leaders in your organisation?
A. I seek leaders who can conceive and execute new ideas
B. I seek leaders who can keep up spirits and inspire high energy
C. I seek the crazy ones who are just as driven as I am to follow through on an idea
D. I look for leaders who can show me the pros and cons of every business decisions
E. I seek leaders who demonstrate commitment for customer needs

Q. What is the predominant personality trait you seek in the talent in your company?
A. The ability to find opportunity and build new ideas
B. The knack to motivate and energise people around them
C. The drive to achieve and execute to perfection
D. The aptitude to find their own answers
E. The capability to adapt

Q. What would be your first reaction when someone in your organisation faces failure?
A. I will reiterate the goals and purpose of the company to her/him
B. I will inspire her/him to lift up and move on with new challenges
C. I will express my disappointment without mixing my words
D. I will ask her/him to ponder over what went wrong and leave it to her/him to improve
E. I will assess if I placed her/him in the right place and make changes if needed

Q. What is the top impact you’d like your enterprise’s goal and purpose to have on employees?
A. Inspire them to constantly think about how to improve and upgrade the market
B. Become the source of what drives them to work everyday
C. Inspires them toward a single-sighted drive to achieve
D. Influence their thought process and help them rationalise what they do
E. Instil customer-centricity in everything they do

Calculate your total score. If you score-
3 or more As- You are a visionary. You inspire people to look for new ideas. But be aware, visionaries sometimes lose touch with reality because it is always the dream that is more important.

3 or more Bs- You are an energiser. Your leadership inspires energy and your workplace reflects one which is vibrant and collaborative. Tread with caution, though. Do not create a culture of over-commitment.

3 or more Cs- You are a driver of passion. Steve Jobs was one too. But yes, there is enough literature on how passion often over-rides good nature. A little empathy would be nice. Finding and retaining good people in this competitive market have become a tad tougher.

3 or more Ds- You are analytical. While you can be trusted to be a fair leader, everyone knows about analysis paralysis. Do learn to trust instincts, and more importantly- your people.

3 or more Es- You are an improviser. You are a flexible leader who listens to people and customers. But in the effort of being customer-centric, do not overlook the needs of your staff. Are they overstretched? Are you building capability to meet higher-level demands before you expect your staff to deliver?

How to become a good coach

Three essential qualities make for a great coach, and leaders can develop all of them through self-training

Among all the leadership development techniques, coaching is an area which many consider vague and ambiguous. While organisations have realised the importance of coaching, the traditional approach of sending leaders to coaching training is proving ineffective. It is true that coaching training enlightens a leader to some key elements of effectiveness, such as listening, building a solution-oriented approach, and feedback mechanisms. But it is difficult to capture the true essence of coaching through coaching sessions.

For a leader, coaching is an integral element of building credibility. It is also true that not all great leaders can be good coaches. Douglas Riddle, Global Director of Coaching Services, at the Centre of Creative Leadership (CCL) recommends a three-point framework for building self-efficacy.

Curiosity– A key and essential element of good coaches is their curiosity and inquisitiveness towards problems. A good coach does not believe in stereotypes and believes that every problem and situation is unique. Consequently, good coaches develop the patience to listen to people’s issues before jumping into solutions.

Presence– A good coach is always present in a conversation. Very often, senior leaders offer solutions to problems because multiple priorities are fighting for their time. Consequently, they lose their ability to really understand perspectives of people who are speaking to them. They also lose their ability to be really present in a conversation, and pay only a fraction of their attention of what is being said. Good coaches, on the other hand, are always present. Many Heads of States and Presidents are regarded as great inspiration as leaders, though they have a multitude of priorities competing for their time. Riddle once had the opportunity of attending a wedding in a park where the President of the United States was passing through. The President generously walked into the wedding to pay his best to the couple. As he was walking out, he spent the next 10 minutes speaking to some of the people at the wedding who were keen. Riddle observed from a distance that despite his priorities as a President of the State, he conducted each small conversation, hearing people out with complete and undivided attention. In other words, in each conversation, no matter how short, the leader was in a state of ‘presence.’

Respect– A common trap that leaders fall into is the belief in the superiority of their own experiences. As a result, they lack the respect to really understand issues. Most of the solutions they offer are a consequence of their need to do something else with their time or purely because the issue does not interest them. An approach where the listener lacks interest in the issue at the first place cannot have fruitful conclusion because it lacks in the basic premise of respect. Respect is one of the most important constituents of a good coach.

Create a magnum opus- every time

While passion and emotion may seem conflicting, it is only when the two come together that creates a work of genius

“I want to build a car for the multitude” Henry Ford proclaimed, “that is so low in price that every man will be able to afford one.” Hailed as the man who taught America how to drive, Ford’s vision was one driven by an emotion, sparking a new modern industrial revolution.  At a time when an automobile was an expensive toy available only to the super rich, Ford wanted one for the common man. For him, there was no reason why every man cannot have a car. With this vision in mind, he founded the Ford Motor company at the beginning of the 20th century. The rest is history.  Ford is fondly remembered for several legendary statements he made during his life time. Among them, one sticks out― “A car looks good in any colour,” Ford said, “so long as it is black.” People who worked directly with Ford remembered him as a man whose love for automobiles was so great, that it superseded every other desire he had. While Ford wanted to build a car for the common man, he was not prepared to compromise on its quality in any department, including the way it looked.  Ford’s statements exemplify two central ingredients of perfection-emotion and passion.

Emotion + passion equals perfection

Emotion drives a behavioural change. It is a conscious reaction to act on the strong desire to serve a customer in the best possible way. Passion, on the other hand, is singlehanded devotion toward perfecting a product, even independent of convention and market demand. Oftentimes, products or ideas driven by emotion have the best functionality, but end up looking unimpressive. On the other hand, products built only with passion become prohibitively expensive or miss the mark completely. It is when emotion and passion merge that we truly see a product so remarkable that it alters paradigms.

Apple is an interesting case in point. Apple’s legacy of product perfection was not an outcome of a fleeting idea by a genius inventor. Very little is spoken about Steve Jobs’ skill as a qualified calligraphist. His biography reveals his love for fonts so great that he dedicated a considerable part of his life to the study and practice of the subject. As a result, Apple’s legacy of innovative design, sleek form factor, and simple interfaces have continued to set new industry standards. Not only do Apple products signify Job’s passion for design, they scream of the man’s emotional vision to provide customers with a product which is easy to experience.

Don’t let passion override emotion, or vice versa

Reebok released a print advertisement in 2012 that said, “Cheat on your girlfriend, not your workout.” Such brand disasters are qualified by Twiteratti as an #Epicfail. While it raised indignant eyebrows, the advertisement made it to Huffington Post’s list of “top 10 advertising disasters for women” in no time. One can sit back and wonder what level of arrogance the creative team must have possessed to conceive and execute such a derisive idea. The execution was flawless. It did not lack wit. And yet, the creator was so possessed with his passion for the product that s/he failed to consider the basic question, “will the consumer like it?” Clearly on this occasion, it did not. After it was widely condoned by social media globally, Reebok had to make a scamper for face-saving tactics. The ads were pulled down and every trace of them vaporised in a jiffy.

The automobile world is rife with several examples of highly functional cars with hideous designs. The creators of these cars were driven by the myopic emotional drive for customer comfort, while grossly overlooking the basic need for making a good looking car. Porsche or Cadillac, Chrysler or Buick, every car brand has made it to lists of ugly-looking cars. Where was the passion for creating a magnum opus when Porsche built the Panamera in 2010 or when Austin built the Allegro in 1973?

What drives us to work every day? Is it the passion to create a work of genius? Or is it the drive to make a customer happy? It may not be necessary to view emotion and passion as an everyday conflict. Maybe a good thought to ponder before the start of every day could be, “Is genius of any use without utility?”

Thinking about someone else is service-Ron Kaufman on service and value

The aspiration and quest for higher service is an “always on” agenda for any service-oriented business. In this age of seamless connectivity and information availability, products and services are easy to replicate and pace of improvements are rapid. Several small and monumental service innovations continue to redefine industry standards and the turf continues to get tougher by the day. The rules of exceptional service, however, remain unchanged. The renowned management speaker and author of the globally acclaimed book, ‘Uplifting Service,’ Ron Kaufman defines service as “taking action to create value for someone else.” Kaufman, who was speaking at the annual SHRM conference in Gurgaon describes service in six levels that range from undesirable to incredible. According to Kaufman, the six levels of service are― criminal, basic, expected, desired, surprising, and unbelievable.

Data can help, but only if you want it to

Advancements in technology and analytics enable several in-depth insights into what constitutes “delight factors” for a customer. Simple CRM systems can become useful tools for frontline staff to delight customers. Many times, the challenge is not about the cost and effectiveness of building the right platform, but more a question of the organisational leadership’s intent. A great service experience is a marriage between exceptional service design coupled with the intent to delight.

When an individual decides to delight a customer, s/he may be able to do it despite all odds. But that’s not sustainable. What organisations really need is to create a service process to create customer delight, even if there are multiple stakeholders and teams involved.’ Data and analytics can be used effectively as means to create customer delight. Data can track buying histories, spending patterns, and product preferences to pre-empt and fix points of failure in a service delivery process. On top of that, pre-empting customer expectations and proactive resolution of process-level issues may contribute to higher-order customer experiences, such as surprise and delight.

An example of exceptional service delivery can be typified with the following example. A customer calls his neighbourhood pizza delivery outlet to order pizza. When a customer calls for a pizza delivery and the customer representative on the other side proactively asks questions like “if the customer wants to order the same pizza as last week’s” and “if s/he would like to pay seamlessly through the same credit card used the last time” it delights the customer. How does the customer representative know all this? There was someone at the back-end of the chain who thought it would be cool to integrate the phone caller IDs with the CRM systems. Data can help in many ways, but only if you want it to. Its not magic!

The four categories of value

The intent to delight is dependent to a great extent to what Kaufman describes as the four categories of value― primary product, delivery system, service mind-set, and ongoing relationships. Each one is interdependent and they collectively comprise the four essentials of customer delight.

Talking on the topic of service and value is not easy anymore; almost everything about service is already said and heard. Hearing Ron Kaufman talk about service is a delight though! He keeps the audience engaged, he modulates his voice, mimics imaginary Germans and Scandinavians, and does not tire his audience; even though his speech may be long. He is not a selfish orator! Perhaps that’s the biggest testimony of his orientation towards service.