Take a moment to reflect on the members of your team. No doubt there are a few that stand out from the pack. Perhaps they have the highest output, the most sales or maybe they are your ‘yes’ person that will take on board any task; irrespective of the time of day.

For these reasons, they are usually the first that are thought of when it comes to promotions, project teams and rewards. While there is no doubt that high performing employees are valuable, they are not necessarily high potential. At first glance, high performing employees seem like ‘the whole package’, however some of these workers may have already hit their potential.

What is a high potential employee?

According to global firm Gartner, a high potential employee (HiPo) is someone with the ability, engagement, and aspiration to rise to and succeed in more senior, critical positions.

A HiPo employee is considered to have the AAA; that is the ability, agility, and aspiration to do more. They possess the intellect, appetite, and leadership orientation to rise to more complex positions within the organisation in a specialist or leadership capacity. HiPos are valuable commodities to the business and drive strong results with their high performance and ability to add value at a strategic level.

Some characteristics of a HiPo include:

  • willingness to operate at a level beyond their current job description
  • consistently demonstrates the values and behaviours or the organisation
  • a self-starter that is motivated to learn outside of their own role
  • demonstrates emotional intelligence and an aptitude for leadership
  • seeks and accepts feedback and adjusts performance accordingly
  • talented in their current position with the appetite to do more
  • looks for ways to contribute more broadly to the organisation
  • a collaborative worker that is respected by peers and calm under pressure
  • keen to progress to leadership or specialist opportunities.

How are high potential employees identified?

Some employers use a leadership ‘gut feel’ model as they seek to identify HiPo employees who have the potential to make a key business impact. They use on the job observations, performance reviews and feedback as the basis of their selection methods. Other organisations are becoming more scientific in their approach and adopt tools such as the High Performance Trait Indicator (HPTI) developed by Ian McRae and Adrian Furnham in 2006.

The HPTI was designed using an ‘optimality’ model, which assumes that certain personality traits can be considered ‘optimal’ according to the requirements of a position. It is designed to measure Conscientiousness, Adjustment, Curiosity, Risk Approach, Ambiguity, Acceptance and Competitiveness. Responses are reviewed to determine the employee’s potential.

Other organisations utilise tools such as the 9 - Box Grid as part of their succession planning process. The 9 - box grid is an individual assessment tool that evaluates an employee's current and potential level of contribution to the organisation. The 9 – Box Grid provides employers a simple tool to plot each employee on the grid by ranking both their performance and their potential. The intersection of the two determines the employee's current standing and where development may be needed.

The 9 - Box Grid is commonly used in succession planning as a way of mapping the current talent and identifying potential leaders. Importantly, the grid also highlights strong performers who have low potential. This does not mean in any way that these employees should be forgotten, however a different approach may be required. For example, a high performer with low potential would not be a strong candidate for a leadership development program.

Establishing the critical competencies

Every business has a unique foot print and their own strategic plan. If the business has a strong acquisition strategy, then they are going to need employees with an appetite for risk. No business is strong in every facet and no employee comes as the complete and perfect package. The trick is to identify the key strategic goals of the business and then to identify the core competencies that are required to achieve this.

The goal of talent management is to ‘build’ and ‘bind’ employees to the business through targeted identification and development to avoid having to always ‘buy’ the talent in. When the business has a strong understanding of their business objectives and goals, they are in a solid position to clearly identify the core competencies required to achieve this.

For example, if an organisation has a plan to rapidly expand to meet customer demand, they will need HiPos with change management skills. This creates an opportunity in the talent development process to ensure that identified employees are well equipped for the job ahead.

It is worth the gamble

This may seem surprising, but some employers are not willing to take the risk to identify and develop HiPos in the business for fear of losing them. The thought process is that investing in talent will only make them more appealing to a competitor or give the employee the skills and confidence to test if the grass really is greener on the other side.

When you are dealing with employees, they are never any guarantees; but arguably not investing in HiPos is the biggest risk of all as soon enough they will catch the eye of your competitor who may just be ready to roll the dice.

Further information

Ai Group has experienced HR consultants who can partner with your business to devise a talent and succession plan strategy that identifies and harnesses talent in your business. For assistance with your workplace matters, Members of Ai Group can contact us or call our Workplace Advice Line on 1300 55 66 77 for further information.

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Georgina Pacor

Georgina is Senior HR Content Editor – Publications at Ai Group. She is an accomplished Human Resource professional with over 25 years of generalist and leadership experience in a broad range of industries including financial services, tourism, travel, government and agriculture. She has successfully advised and partnered with senior leaders to implement people and performance initiatives that align to business strategy. Georgina is committed to utilising her experience to create resources that educate and engage and is passionate about supporting members to optimise an inclusive workforce culture that drives performance.