Friday 22 January 2016

What makes your Hi-Po people, high potential?

I’ve been talking to several HR friends and clients about developing High Potential people (Hi-Po’s). The comments they make are similar, here are a few examples:
  • 'We have differences of opinion on what we mean by Hi-Po to begin with!’
  • ‘I am not sure we really know what do with a Hi-Po once we have agreed someone is Hi-Po.’
  • ‘I suspect we are not very good at differentiating needs. Our development plans do look like one-size-fits-all.’    

I want to start by asking a question that is not often asked:
  • ‘What is it like for the Hi-Po person?’

Why is this a useful question? Because the future is going to be about competing for talented people as much as competing for customers.

We need to understand more about the psychology of a Hi-Po person if we are to attract, retain and maximize the value in our talent pool.

There are numerous ways of defining a ‘Hi-Po Person’ and I realize I will be making some assumptions: I will focus on younger people selected for a career path, who are usually from a University route, and make a few generalizations, although there is supporting research.

What do Hi-Po people possess and what is their experience of life so far? And this starts with a big USUALLY they:
  • Are above average intelligence, quick to solve problems, quick to learn new concepts.
  •  Have excellent verbal and numerical reasoning, they see solutions easily.
  • Will be ambitious and have high expectations of themselves and you as an employer.
  • Have expectation that promotions and assume career success will follow.
  • They have found academic study relatively easy.
  • Have learnt how to relate to other senior, intellectually clever, ambitious people.
  • Work hard, but success has been more guaranteed with this hard work than for others.

You usually select Hi-Po people for their intellect, ability and cognitive capabilities. However, let us look at what Hi-Po people USUALLY do not possess. These are the blind spots you will need to develop.
  • They often do not understand why other people find problems difficult to solve, and take so much time to arrive at the answer.
  • They often find it hard to explain ideas and solutions to others, because others cannot easily follow the reasoning.
  • Others expect a lot from Hi-Po people so there is a pressure to perform; this includes family members as well as senior people at work.
  • Knowing that everyone expects great things from them, there can be a hidden lack of confidence.
  •  Hi-Po people have not spent time learning to build relationships with people who (they think) are not as quick or intelligent; there has been no need to, or value in it.
  • The language used by Hi-Po people is often more elaborate, which makes them harder from others to understand, or know how to talk to.
  •  Career promotions that do not move at the pace expected lead to frustration.
Conclusions? Hi-Po people are very quick at assimilating task and functional skills, and are well equipped to do this. However, they can find it more challenging to develop relationships and effective interpersonal skills. They may have a lower starting point than others who have learnt to use interpersonal skills as a substitute for not being as quick or clever. As a graph, (artistic rather than scientific) the Hi-Po would look something like this:

The task for Talent Development Managers is to close ‘The Hi-Po Gap’ by lifting the lower line quickly. Here are some ideas to maximize the value of Hi-Po people to the business. These activities offer a way of assimilating personal skills quickly. Give your Hi-Po people a chance:
  • Teaching and instructing others, which will develop communication skills.
  • Coaching others can develop patience and learn not to always give the answers
  • Team leadership duties means learning to handle a range of interpersonal, domestic and performance issues sensitively
  • Realign expectations on what they will and will not be doing in the day-to-day job
  • Do not over-promise promotions or career steps
  • Give a buddy at a subordinate level to provide advice on what life and work is like for others in the organization.
  • Give a mentor at a senior level to help with relationship building skills

Make sure your Hi-Po people reach their high potential and you get the benefit, not a competitor!

Next article: Talented or simply good?

About the Author:
Nigel Murphy supports the whole learning experience of MCE delegates across MCE’s wide range of solutions. He has a background in management in manufacturing, education and training. For the past 10 years he has worked on leadership programmes across the globe. He is interested in the mentoring of new managers and leaders, and leading remote teams of people in today’s globally 
dispersed businesses.



  1. Hi Nigel,
    Here is my input from experience on your question:
    What is like for the High potential person?
    I believe it starts with setting the right mutual expectations. Starting with the goal of such a concept.
    Is this about successor planning?
    Is it about managing? leading?
    Is it about doing things differently?
    Is it about challenging?
    So, to back to your question it is important to understand what really triggers and motivates them. You might want them to take the CEO chair and make a 5 year plan for that and what they really are passionate about is developing the business on the floor.
    Obviously, younger generation have a quite different view on this and by the way it is always a plus to explain the difference between high potential and young potential. High potential persons can be experienced in their jobs and a bit older than grad students...
    So, If the 'high potential person' understands and agrees on the mutual expectations it's definitely a good place to start.
    Then, some other questions need to be answered and what I see today are very poor responses to the problem, for numerous reasons?

    What does it mean for me to have this label of 'high potential' stuck on my forehead?
    In relation to my manager? More work? Different tasks?Projects?
    In relation to the team and other stakeholders? Will they be envious? Jealous? More demanding?

    Another big question: Who is going to mentor/coach me on this journey? What visibility do I have about the next steps? Is there even a plan?

    Not always easy to be in the shoes of a 'high potential' I guess, at times

    Hope this helps


    1. Thanks Daniel! I like your observations on what it is like to be labelled HiPo. And yes, the purpose of selecting HiPos is the right place to start. I am also hearing of HiPos who have been promised success, and an economic situation that delays promotions. I am also thinking we need to be much better at managing the expectations of HiPos, which is what you also indicate. Thanks for the reply - and I will talk to the point on mentoring soon....

  2. High potential or high commitment? It bothers on why both have to be of the different persona, can it be invoked invoke in one person only. That a person should be hi-po and hi-co at the same time, it that happens then a lot of companies will be successful. I myself can say that I am both, I am highly committed to get help me with my term paper and to get highly potential output, I will thoroughly check it afterward.

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