What Kills a Good High Potential Program?

What Kills a Good High Potential Program?

13.03.2018 By adam.vassar

Is your high potential program an administrative nightmare?

In our last two articles, we talked about the critical impact that high potentials can make on an organization and the importance of accurately identifying those employees.  Companies struggle with this due to many factors such as not correctly defining potential and not fully answering the question “Potential for what?”.  However, there is another elephant in the room related to why potential programs fail.  An organization may be using the right tools and assessing the right attributes.  They may even be identifying the right employees with raw, General Potential and placing them on the right career paths relative to their Specific Potential.  Yet many of these projects still implode because frankly launching and supporting a high potential program can be an administrative nightmare.  

Even a good high potential program can die a slow death buckling under the weight of the mighty labor required to stand it up and keep it moving.  I have talked with multiple practitioners that have designed highly sound methods for assessing potential, yet they are extremely hesitant to roll that program out in their respective organizations.  They know quite well that their small team of 2 or 3 internal talent management experts cannot scale the efforts necessary to manage the program for a large company and certainly not for a global employee population.  So what are these administrative factors that can kill a good high potential program?

Process inefficiency
A common hidden cost of assessing potential is the administrative time and effort required to input participant details into the technology platform in order to send assessment invitations to employees.  The hidden costs of this task become significant when multiplied across thousands of participants.  But wait, it gets worse!  After participants complete the assessment, the process of extracting reports from the system and distributing those feedback reports to participants can be even more time-consuming.  Furthermore, the promised confidentiality of that feedback report can appear compromised when: a) a company employee is emailing the report to the HiPo, and b) it takes weeks for the report to be sent and the participant is wondering who else saw the report during that time.

Giving VIPs the cheap seats.
Companies are waking up to the importance of candidate experience and treating their applicants like the possible customers and brand ambassadors they truly are.  However, we are forgetting to ensure that the participant experience of a high potential is similarly positive and meaningful when they log into a talent portal.  When the HiPo clicks on the URL provided, and they see the Hogan logo instead of their own company’s logo and branding, they might be confused and assume they’ve entered a professional wrestling website.  These VIP participants are likely to become further frustrated if they are either unable to access the assessment via their tablet and smartphone or if that mobile experience is less than optimal and difficult to use.

No data for you!
Assessment providers are historically good at producing a PDF report for 1 HiPo and notoriously bad at giving organizations easy and meaningful access to aggregate data for all HiPos.  The infamous data export tends to happen too rarely and when it does it’s in the form of an unwieldy spreadsheet.  Because it’s hard to get this data and time consuming to making meaning out of it, companies miss critical opportunities to improve their high potential program in an iterative manner by identifying both positive findings and concerning trends.  After assessing a few hundred HiPos, internal practitioners are sitting on a goldmine of people analytics insight that could fuel metric-driven stories to prove the value of the high potential program investment…if only they could unlock the data.

A wise mentor once told me never to point out the problems without recommending the solutions.  How do we avoid the administrative nightmare that high potential programs can become and create efficient processes, a positive participant experience, and easy access to data insights?


Empower your participants with self-service technology
Put HiPos in the driver seat and eliminate the labor required to administer assessments and generate/distribute feedback reports.  It’s really not that complicated.  Rather than manually pushing out assessment invitations to participants, provide those individuals with a hands-off, self-service technology portal where they can initiate the assessment themselves.  At the end of the assessment, this “HiPo Hub” automatically presents the participant with on-demand features to immediately and confidentially access and download their own development feedback report.

Branding and messaging is key
The low hanging fruit to optimize the participant experience is to configure a HiPo Hub that seamlessly displays your organization’s branding, colors, and logo.  Likewise, it is simply table stakes and a minimum requirement in this day and age that the assessment can be easily accessed by participants on a mobile device.  Beyond that, companies have their HiPos as a captive audience during the assessment session and this is critical although all too often missed opportunity for messaging and communication.  Use the valuable screen real estate before the assessment to communicate to the participant who will and won’t see their assessment results and how this data will and will not be used by the organization.  The screen space at the end of the assessment is also a golden opportunity to reiterate the message that the HiPo is accountable for driving the development planning and growth process, who the key stakeholders are to support them, what learning resources are at their disposal, and what next steps they should expect.  This is all good stuff but we can think even bigger.  What if we embed a video from the CEO in the assessment session thanking the employee for investing in their own career development and sharing his or her views on the organization’s philosophy and approach on nurturing potential.  It can be done!

People analytics can humanize your HiPo data
No more painful data export spreadsheets.  Practitioners need access to analytic dashboards to support continuous improvement and risk mitigation in their HiPo programs.  We should examine potential data related to impact on gender, ethnicity, and age.  In this way, people analytics can be leveraged to increase perceptions of high potential program fairness.  Alternatively, if trends are showing a possible lack of fairness, those trends can be quickly discovered and remedied.  For example, how do males vs. females score on the potential tool?  These are questions we need to get ahead of and important topics where we need to be on our toes with data in hand rather than on our heels scrambling for data.  These analytics dashboards offer filters so users can easily slice and dice the data to examine interesting trends for different HiPo variables and groups across the organization.  What do HiPos in Department A look like compared to Department B?  How do early career HiPos compare to those later in their career?  What is the relationship between performance and potential?  These dashboards unlock the power for talent management professionals to make meaning out of their data and become compelling storytellers in their organization. 

In the end, the quality of the experience matters for both the high potentials and the talent management team. If assessing, identifying, and developing high potentials is a painful process for anyone involved, then the process is broken. Each tool introduced into the HiPo program should be carefully selected, uniquely customized, reduce the time burden on the talent team, and provide value beyond a single-use experience.


If this blog post tapped into a few frustrations you’ve experienced with your high potential program, you’ll enjoy our March 22nd webcast: Everything You Know About Potential is Wrong.


Register here now!