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.

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.

‘HR needs a seat at the table’ and other annoying peeves

Lately, there has been a surge of people talking and writing about HR’s need to find a ‘seat at the table.’ For the uninitiated that means, HR’s too dumb to be of any consequence to a CEO. HR needs to fight its way to grab a CEO’s attention. Why is no one talking about ‘marketing’ needing to grab the seat? Or ‘finance’? Not cool.

Keep the following in mind and stop worrying about the seat.

HR’s too big-ass for the seat
The business runs on people. Marketing runs on people. Finance runs on people. And HR manages people. It’s pervasive. Without anybody managing the human resources of the enterprise, everything crumbles. No questions on that. Trying to fit something that big into one seat is just too much effort. The CEO gets that. At least if s/he is smart!

No, HR’s not shutting down
Lately, many are saying that HR departments will likely shut down because they tend to be too administrative and have no business focus. ‘Average’ is not an HR problem. ‘Average’ is unacceptable anywhere. Be exceptional and no one will dare touch you.

Hire exceptional to appear exceptional
Do not settle for ‘average’ to meet goal sheets. Always aim for the exceptional. Make efforts to hire the right people even if it takes three times longer. Don’t take the easy way out. Every hiring should be imaginative and inventive. Just put some deep thinking. People will thank you.

Customise, customise, customise- train right
The needs of every new hire and every batch is different. Don’t take the easy way out and make ‘standards’ a way of life. Customise, customise, customise. Make the ‘orientation module’ and ‘training 203’ your biggest enemies.

The next time, no one talks to you about the seat. Remember it’s you who makes the seating arrangement.

The three mistakes of my professional life

Picture source: OnlyOneDrop

Picture source: OnlyOneDrop

We work hard to avoid problems at work. We aim to respond to all important mails, deliver on deadlines, make clients happy, and avoid any conflict with the manager or a colleague. But no matter how hard we try, inventive problems emerge every time from quarters where we least expect and cause havoc in our lives in ways which we are least prepared for. There will never be a period in our professional (or personal) life where we haven’t made a slip or two. Sometimes its bad luck, and on other times it’s a small innocuous detail which we were lazy to ignore at the beginning. If I start taking stock of all the small and big mistakes that I’ve made across the course of my professional life, I’d end up with a number large enough to hide my embarrassed face in the sand until it gets dark outside. But every time I’ve made a mistake-small or big- I’ve grown wiser. I can unequivocally claim that I am a more mature professional than what I was, a hundred mistakes earlier.

Here are three great mistakes I committed in my professional life and what I learnt from them. (I call them great because, they give me the confidence to claim that I am a better professional now.)

Forgetting to put my out-of-office— It was just a small vacation and I remembered at the airport that I had forgotten to put my out-of-office auto reply on. I told myself that I had responded to everyone and had set all my business in order before I left. Hence, any new e-mail would be new business. New business can surely wait for a couple of days. I was wrong. Not only did I lose out on opportunities, my confidence that I had everything covered before the vacation was shaken. I did miss out a couple of important ones in all the excitement of a long-awaited break. Result was a catastrophic first day back at work followed by a frustrated FB status message, “I wish the vacation was never over.”

What I do now: I put my OoO the moment I remember it, even if it is a month before the vacation. I schedule it for the period I will be out for the vacation. I am now 100 per cent OoO compliant.

Not editing an important e-mail— It’s good to be confident about one’s writing skills. But not putting the effort to edit is just not acceptable. Almost immediately after writing something which I am proud of, I can identify several areas of improvement when I read it. The more time I spend editing, the better it gets. While there is no end to how much one can edit, sending an important e-mail out without editing is a sin. The value gets dissipated by half if there are structural issues or incoherent arguments, and by another quarter if there are grammatical errors. (c’mon don’t tell me you don’t judge people who write bad sentences).

What I do now: I quickly put myself in the shoes of the person reading my e-mails and read it top to bottom to see if it makes sense. Spotting grammar errors is a function of practice, and I keep improving every time. Now, at times I even edit informal e-mails; getting it right is better that getting it wrong, isn’t it?

Too lazy to wear many hats— This is a classic case. I consider myself a focused professional. When I am working on something, I find it very difficult to do something else in the middle of it even if it is urgent. I dread these words from any colleague, “it will only take five minutes of your time.” I keep telling myself, “this is not what I had planned for.” And though I know that what my colleague has asked for is important, I will tend to resist it. And my colleague will wonder why I am acting difficult for something so easy. Many times, we resist doing something new because it required us to think differently. It breaks our inertia. And we are all driven by inertia.

What I do now: Whenever I receive any task that threatens to break my current inertia, I ask myself one question, “is this urgent and important?” If the answer is anything but a “Yes,” I will find a great way to reason with my colleague and tell her/him when I would do it and why it’s not necessary to do it right away. I do not frown or grumble or make “that face” anymore.

Problems at work will never cease to exist, if you’ve had a perfect day at work with nothing going wrong, it is probable that you’ve not done anything important.

The 5 essential career investments

One views career investments in many ways. Some consider learning new skills as a career investment, some get certified, and some change jobs. In this day and age where upskilling opportunities are plentiful but jobs and raises are scarce, everyone is thinking about measures that can help the next leap in their careers. I am not a big fan of certifications and paper degrees. Nothing wrong with them, seriously! Certifications are great, but when it comes to actual crisis at work, it’s a person’s instincts and natural flair that come into play more than knowledge from certification courses.

How can a person build his instincts and natural predisposition to solve higher order work problems? I believe that there is no quick fix way to build a professional personality. Personality is a sum total of an individual’s experiences. Conventional certifications and job switches may not contribute much to that. So what are those unconventional investments one should seek to make her/him ready for any crisis? The following are my top five.

Keep modifying your CV— No, the intent of one’s CV is not just finding another job. A CV is a reflection of an individual’s worth, years of hard work culminating into a document- a CV is what shows the true worth of an individual’s employability. How many times have we come across people who claim that their job is so unique that there is no other job in the world that can match their current role? Well, their problem is not unique. No two jobs in the world are the same. If you cannot explain what you do to someone in 10 seconds, then your CV is not good enough. Invest time in building the CV and keep thinking about the question that your visiting aunt might ask at the dinner table, “So what do you do?” Keep building your CV, modifying it, adding new things, deleting the unnecessary details. It is an ongoing process. Even when you’re not looking for a job.

Invest in reminding yourself of your true worth— While it is perfectly ok to throw numbers and contact lists at others, it’s pointless to justify your inflated worth to yourself. Be true to yourself, you’ll need it. Especially when you’re outside of your professional circle. Inflated egos rarely draw awe, they draw yawns. Seriously! Try and spend time every day remembering what you are truly are, and be aware of your limitations too. And I mean, every day.

Invest in your physical self— I don’t necessarily mean, build your biceps. Staying healthy is about staying physically agile and energetic. I’ve seen too many people with the excuse, “I just don’t have the time to hit the gym.” Who told you that the gym is the only path to physical salvation? Climb stairs, run from your office to your car at the parking, sit upright in your workstation, drink loads of water, and don’t be so weak so as to be unable to resist snacking temptations. Whenever you justify your inability to stay healthy, remember “YOU ARE A LIAR!!!”

Read something intellectually stimulating— I’ve heard this one several times too, “I’m already doing mental stuff all through the day, I just don’t have any more bandwidth to read something serious. I can only read tabloid crap.” Once again, “DO NOT TRY AND JUSTIFY YOUR LAZY SELF.” If you don’t have the bandwidth, build it. It’s just a first mile problem. Once you cover it, there is no stopping. Try it!

Build your zone— The zone is something beautiful, something totally random inside your head. Build a zone where you can escape to whenever you are faced with pressure and stress. The zone should be perfect. You should be the superwoman/superman in that zone and you control everything. And you could do anything, literally! Let it rather be something pleasant than violent. It builds character.

Always remember, the most important career investment that you make is the one that syncs your heart and mind.

Indians don’t deserve global standards-just yet

We recently moved. One of the ills of living and working away from home is the annual battle of shifting places every time a rental lease expires. And every time, it brings with it a growing list of administrative obligations. Social security numbers are still a distant dream for us, and every shifting iteration is followed by a hundred trips to banks, gas agencies, and broadband offices to get address records updated. And yes, to get your WiFi transferred. After all, WiFi comes a close third to food and alcohol for survival in the Millennium City.

Around the time while we were shifting, I saw a promoted Facebook post from Tata Photon WiFi promising the sun. Incredible speeds, great connectivity, and incredible prices- the kind of stuff that could make you look like grandpa on a Cyrix desktop in the age of quad-core phones. I couldn’t believe my stroke of luck and clicked it. What lay ahead was even more incredible- Tata Photon had a cash on delivery option! Could it get any better than that? Next steps were simple— a few clicks and my “deliver at doorstep” order was placed. The “doorstep delivery” never happened of course. Not that I was expecting it either- I suppose, like others, I’ve come to peace with the professional predictability of our fellow countrymen. After all, what’s service without some good ol’ banter and heartburn? Would anyone even remember a brand if everything went smooth?  The days that followed gave me long and profound insights about us Indians, and why we are the way we are.

Professionalism is a far cry for Indian companies

Several days, phone calls, and twitter complaints later, I received a call from Tata Docomo apologising for the “technical problems” and their inability to deliver the product sooner. After all, ‘apologise for the technical problems’ is the first sentence written in the preface of every customer-service-for-dummies user manual in the country. As a student of management and an observer and writer of consumer brands, such a red flag at the beginning of a relationship is akin to the blue screen of death on a Windows PC. But around the same time, an idea cropped up. I decided to follow it through, until either of us gives in or gives up. And I decided to do it with as much grace as my patience would allow.

Sure enough, every alternate evening, I’d receive a new call from a customer-care-executive promising delivery the following day. Of course, no phone call would be complete without the closing touch- “Our executive will call you before delivery.” And after yet another no-call-no-show, I’d politely submit a telephonic or twitter complaint. A couple of days after every complaint, the same technoerror-apologise-we’lldeliver routine followed. It would be hard to put a number, but I suppose I underwent this routine anywhere between six and nine times. Above everything else, as a follower of the “Zen” way of living, maintaining one’s calm under repeated test conditions is a true test of character. Tata Docomo already has an established infrastructure and trained service staff to start a “patience and personality development” service line. They could do it over the phone!

The next step was visiting a physical store. This time, I visited a dealer and bought an awesome-er “Tata-Docomo-3G-WiFi- incredible-unbelievable” package.  While I narrated my history with the brand earlier, the dealer was convinced that the only thing coming between me and Tata Docomo awesomeness was my delay in finding the man himself. I purchased this at 11am, and the guy swore that his money, wife, and fertility are just three of the few things he’d be willing to forego if the connection is not activated by 9pm! Fertility? This guy had to be serious right?

Several mornings later, while I write this post and if I could guess correctly, I’d say that it’s been about four and a half weeks since it all started.  Tata Docomo awesomeness still evades me and my Zen score has increased at least by a multiple of 4.

Have we really evolved from the Kirana store mind set?

Several brands and corporations have imported global customer services and products to the Indian market. While one may consider this as a signal of the increasing maturity of the Indian consumer market, something remains unaccounted for. Brands and corporations seem to have overlooked the fact that at every delivery and purchase touch-point, stands the crucial layer of human interaction. Have brands asked the question, “Is the Indian consumer ready for global standards yet?” In every store, behind every counter, and on the other side of each phone call, there is a human being facilitating the transaction. Were these global standards and practices built with the Indian employee and the Indian consumer in mind? My Tata Docomo experience is among several other examples which solidifies my belief that we are not.

If I look back, my only risk-free purchase experiences are the ones where I’ve visited a physical store and bought items with little risk exposure and perfectly predictable outcomes. We are still far from the time where purchasing anything more than a bar of soap from the local kirana store will be a risk-free and effortless experience. Not to take anything away from #Flipkart; I think these guys are awesome. But buying even a book from #Flipkart has its share of risks. There is bad internet connectivity, unpredictable power supply, and lousy computers involved in an online book purchase process. It’s risky! And if you run into rough weather, one thing is predictable- “the person on the other side of the customer service will surely give you a hard time.” And on that, I could bet my money, wife, and fertility!

P.S.- The reason why I decided to try out Tata Docomo was because of another nightmare called Airtel Broadband services. But that’s another story, of course!