More and more organizations are reaping the benefits from offering HiPo (high-potential) programs that provide intense, targeted training for their rising-star employees. But now the stakes are even bigger. In the current business environment, companies with a robust, comprehensive HiPo program have a serious competitive advantage to help attract and retain top talent.

What does that mean for talent managers today?

The implications are significant. Training professionals need to stretch beyond the developmental and educational goals of their programs to consider the broader impact of the entire experience. It’s no longer simply about increasing the skills and capacity of coveted talent but also:

  • Measurably growing future leaders
  • Tapping into thought-provoking, cutting-edge learning solutions
  • Exposing program participants to alternative perspectives and processes
  • Providing transformational experiences designed to promote assimilation, sense-making and interdependent thinking
  • Drawing in senior leaders to help expand/support the program

To raise the bar and create this type of amplified experience, training professionals need to understand what high potentials really want. Upgrading HiPo programs for greater success requires an increased focus on six areas that are critically important to meet the unique needs and preferences of high potentials. 

  1. Career-Path Mapping

HiPos are future-focused and want to know what’s next. That means providing them with a career map that specifically identifies the path for their forward progress—additional development opportunities, anticipated assignments and potential advancement. While these ambitious high potentials will want to have input and choices, this basic framework for the future will keep them engaged.

As a starting point, training professionals can share “success profiles” for the various positions within their organizations, including the knowledge areas, skills and abilities required to master each job. These profiles might be divided by function (sales, marketing, finance) or by title (program manager, supervisor, senior leader). Many companies also include the percentages of people within each role to indicate the scope of career options available.

Using this kind of data, HiPos can begin to envision their next steps and better articulate their immediate goals. The challenge for managers is to support those goals while finding a balance between the HiPo’s career aspirations and the long-term needs of the organization.

2. High-Impact Challenges

HiPos want challenges. They crave them. And truthfully, they NEED challenges to sustain their enthusiasm. That means it’s important for development activities to test their knowledge, provide them with more diverse learning experiences, and demand greater levels of strategic thinking. Here are four ways to challenge high potentials.

Multi-Disciplinary Rotation Programs

These formal programs allow participants to rotate through diverse positions within an organization, exposing them to a wide variety of business functions and/or geographies. When high potentials participate in these types of rotation programs, they absorb a wide range of experiences and perspectives that accelerate their growth and improve their decision-making as future leaders.

Business Simulations 

These exercises bring together high-potential cohorts to solve hypothetical business problems. These are typically complex challenges, and the HiPos may be asked to play the role of key stakeholders or decision makers. Through this process, high potentials begin to look at problems from a different perspective and stretch their leadership skills safely in a simulated environment. Many companies report that this exercise shines an interesting light on the capabilities of the participants who might otherwise be pigeonholed in different roles.

Project-Based Experiential Learning 

With these stretch assignments, participants get involved with cross-functional and even global projects that move them closer to the organization’s overall strategy. This is a smart way to align the HiPos with some of the company’s most challenging issues and expose them to influential colleagues across lines of business.

Highly Specialized Development  

These distinctive, customized training programs provide a different slant or a deeper dive on a particular topic or skill. Examples of the latest trends in specialized training are courses in design thinking, mindfulness, change management, leadership branding, predictive analytics, and artificial intelligence. 

3. Unlimited Access to Self-Paced Learning Tools

HiPos want to continue learning and growing. Plus, they absorb new information and skills at a faster pace than the vast majority of employees. Unfortunately, most organizations don’t have endless budgets for staff development.

If training professionals want to leverage the strong initiative of their high potentials, they need to offer them unlimited access to self-paced programs. Examples include internal learning management systems or subscriptions for online platforms like Coursera and LinkedIn Learning.

The benefits from this “all-you-can-eat educational buffet” are quickly apparent. These motivated HiPos often take full advantage of those learning opportunities, and the results are undeniable.

4. Rich Performance Feedback

HiPos are highly competitive, and they want to know the score. How are they measuring up to expectations? To their peers? One of the smartest ways for a development program to support high potentials is to give them ongoing, detailed feedback about their performance and their impact, along with an honest assessment of their strengths and weaknesses.

Self-Assessments

At the basic level, programs should offer self-assessments (also called psychometric tests) to help participants evaluate their capabilities, preferences and behavioral styles. More advanced assessments like Workplace Big 5, Strengths Finder and EQ-I 2.0 generate additional data points that provide an in-depth view of the employees’ personality profiles and key strengths. That information leads to a better understanding of how their natural tendencies impact their decisions and behaviors at work.

Multi-Rater Evaluations

This second level of assessment (sometimes known as 360 feedback) provides high potentials with the opportunity to receive performance feedback from supervisors, peers, reporting staff members, and customers. While these multi-rater evaluations are customarily reserved for senior leaders, high potentials may have the most to gain from the concise results about specific leadership competencies. In fact, many 360 assessments conclude with targeted development suggestions that prompt positive changes with lasting effects.

Individual Coaching

This feedback option pairs each high potential with a trained, experienced coach (internal or external) for a series of one-on-one sessions. The impact of this highly personalized coaching on eager, driven professionals cannot be overstated. High potentials who have received individual coaching unanimously report that it is a priceless part of their HiPo program experience.

5. Regular Exposure to Top Executives

HiPos want access to an organization’s movers and shakers. They want to hear from them directly and also get a chance to share their perspectives.

Robust HiPo programs need to schedule regular meetings for high potentials to interact with the company’s top executives. This allows for more intimacy than an “all hands” meeting, and it provides additional opportunities for participants to practice communicating their personal brands and career aspiration.

Some companies even create more formal interactions between senior leaders and high potentials through an official mentor program. These typically include one-on-one sessions over six to 12 months with an executive at the VP level or above. According to industry research, approximately 71 percent of the Fortune 500 use internal mentoring programs of this kind to efficiently pass along years of knowledge and experience to the organization’s up-and-coming leaders.

6. Networking Opportunities

HiPos want to build supportive working relationships. They are typically forward-thinking and understand the importance of establishing connections they can leverage throughout their careers.

Strong relationships (inside and outside the company) will give high potentials a definitive edge—a larger pool of resources, greater access to certain individuals, and increased clout to navigate office politics. Although the type of networking offered might differ across companies and industries, HiPo programs that receive the highest ratings are the ones that help participants make solid connections with real business value.

Conclusion

For talent managers who need a go-to solution for attracting and retaining top talent, HiPo programs offer tangible advantages. But the key to developing a wildly successful program is genuinely understanding what today’s high potentials really want. The training professionals who take the time to create programs that cut through the clutter of standard offerings and actually deliver on those needs will see the difference—in the quantity of top applicants, the quality of new hires, and the longevity of influential talent.

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