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.