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Mark Hodgson

Right Management

Practice Leader Talent Management

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Developing your high-potentials to retain business-critical talent


As the war for talent heats up and businesses compete for the skills they need, there is more pressure than ever on employers to create development opportunities for their staff in order to attract and retain the best talent.

Hiring the best candidates you possibly can is an important first step but it’s not enough to merely consider your current skills needs. To be successful in the future, you need to look ahead at least two to five years and ensure a pipeline of possible future leaders are in place.

Who are your HiPos?

Businesses can identify these future leaders by looking at who their high-potential employees (HiPos) are. HiPos are individuals who could perform successfully in leadership roles that are one or two levels above their current roles, ideally over the next two to five years. By investing in and developing your HiPos from now, you can begin the crucial process of preparing them for leadership roles in the future, to ensure they drive the business forward successfully.

Our recent HiPo Forum events demonstrated how organisations can go about this. Creating a career development ethos and recognising employees as a ‘total value asset’ can allow mutual goals to be reached by both the organisation and the individual.

The events also helped HR professionals understand the importance of providing career opportunities that enable individuals to feel developed, stretched and in charge of their own careers. This enables organisations to reap the benefits from their retained and motivated HIPOs, who are crucial to driving business performance.

Measuring the impact of a HiPo programme on the business can range from structured tests to simple career conversations. For example, psychometric tests can be used to assess the impact on employee motivation. On the other hand, a one-to-one discussion between an individual and their line manager could establish how the programme has helped make the HIPO feel empowered about their development and their future within the company.

Tailored career conversations are key to engaging with HiPos as the discussions are unique to each individual and will most likely vary among different age groups too. With the younger generation in particular, we’re seeing a shift from people typically wanting a ‘Job for Life’ in one organisation, to employees increasingly looking to create a ‘Career for Me’ which may consist of multiple simultaneous careers.

As such, employees are now autonomous, seeking new opportunities to build their value, and own the trajectory of their career, and will go to the company that can provide them with the experiences, brand, and environments they want to build their own career portfolios.

HR professionals therefore need to re-craft their relationship with HiPos, recognising that career experiences must be of mutual benefit to both the organisation and the employee. By creating these valuable opportunities, experiences and access to learning, HR executives can build engagement with their employees and retain business critical talent.

But HiPos programmes are becoming more than just a retention device or a reward for high performance. When HR professionals link their organisational strategy with the career development of their HiPos, they can ensure such programmes drive clear business value.

Three tips to successfully develop your HiPo talent:

1) Understand what motivates people in their careers: How much do you know about the motivations of your HiPos? How are you measuring this? HR professionals should consider how line managers can work with employees to identify and measure these motivations in order to help their staff to make meaningful career decisions. Motivation can be measured using psychometrics, career aspiration questionnaires and by having career conversations.

2) Define ‘career development’ in your organisation: To help determine what the notion of ‘career development’ means in your business, you can ask yourself questions such as: How much responsibility should the employee hold for their own development? How might the younger generation of HiPos be looking for different experiences from their colleagues of other generations? Are you taking the right career risks with your HiPos or are you being too cautious? Businesses need to ensure roles are flexible, embrace risk and are mindful of generational differences.

3) Recognise the importance of key stakeholders in the development of HIPOs: Are your line managers and executives enablers or blockers of careers for HIPOs? Line managers could be any of the following types of blockers:

  • Mindset: Some line managers may not understand how their role fits into developing HiPo talent. This can be remedied by ensuring their engagement in the HiPo programme from the start and clearly defining their role as a ‘facilitator of talent’.
  • Emotion: Some line managers may not understand why developing HiPo talent is crucial to the success of their team and that of the wider business. This can be remedied by coaching the line manager and helping them realise how they would benefit from the HiPo’s career development.
  • Skillset: Some line managers may lack the skills to be able to fully support HiPo development. The HR team can help line managers by offering them training on how to coach HiPos, how to facilitate effective career conversations and give them the skills to provide constructive feedback.
Author Profile Picture
Mark Hodgson

Practice Leader Talent Management

Read more from Mark Hodgson

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