Formalise the talent process?
One of the most critical questions organisations face once they have identified and validated their high potential talent is whether to inform the organisation or not that a talent process exists. Generally, most high potentials are not formally announced, although many will be briefed about their 'special status' at review meetings. But in a climate in which organisations go all out to attract and retain talent, perhaps they are missing a trick; an open communication policy could form part of the strategy aimed at retaining this group.
Open and honest communication
There are many pros with adopting an open communication policy. By speaking openly about the process, the development of the hi-po becomes a shared responsibility with all those involved, including HR, line managers and senior managers of the organisation. This ensures that interim assessments and development initiatives for the hi-po are openly planned and monitored, and the hi-po understands what is expected of them. Additionally, in a world where many organisations seek to be transparent with their employees, the 'secret list' approach would be seen as counter-culture.
Why be open & explicit?
The benefits of an open communication policy may also have far wider reaching appeal.
A formal and open high potentials strategy ensures that all employees understand the conditions, demands and expectations required of a hi-po. This enhances the feeling of fairness and objectiveness, generally creating a positive perception of in-house management development. For the hi-po themselves, open communication about their status may too be positive. It's now up to them to prove they are worthy of the title and the trust the organisation puts in them. The enhanced visibility they receive throughout the organisation may also result in increased motivation on the part of the hipo to dedicate and prove themselves.
Potential problems to consider
But with these positive aspects to open communication come potential challenges that organisations must be aware of and manage. Firstly, the label causes extra pressure to perform and not all hipos are able to handle this pressure. Conversely, there is the risk that some will become 'too big for their boots' and rest on their laurels as they believe that further growth and promotion are now 'in the bag'.
Hi-po employees may abuse their title, and utilise it as a negotiation tool to put the organisation under pressure, or casually inform head-hunters about their special status in order to open up opportunities outside of the organisation. And what of employees that have not been labelled as high potentials, who make up the largest part of an organisation’s workforce? Does it mean that they are seen as 'low potentials'?
Top tips for formalising the talent process
When we look at the disadvantages and risks of an open communication policy, it's clear that at the heart of the challenges are two main factors. First, the wrongly perceived promotion pledge or guarantee of future success to the hi-po, and secondly the wider impact that this could have on employees who are not selected. In order to minimise any potential fallout, there are some recommended best practices we would advocate:
- Communicate to the organisation, the formal evaluation process that identifies and validates talent.
- Decide who is to communicate to the high potential employee and clearly establish key and consistent messages beforehand.
- Emphasise that the hipo status is temporary and does not represent guaranteed growth or promotion - establish a clear time period that the person is regarded as a high potential.
- Define the prior conditions required for a high potential and be clear about what the organisation expects in terms of performance. Determine concrete objectives that the hi-po must accomplish within the pre-determined timing.
- Ensure that the hipo is provided with input and insights on their essential areas of development, and on the knowledge, skills and attitudes that have to be acquired to be able to stay on the hipo track in the future.
- Make arrangements for the development needs of the high potential and prepare a clean career plan based on these development aspects.
- For high performing and key individuals with specific expertise who are not selected as hi-po employees, retention strategies that play to the specific needs of these individuals must be implemented in order to retain them.
Building the talent pipeline for success
While there are challenges associated with an open communication policy, on balance, I believe that the question is not whether to tell the organisation, but how to. With careful planning and monitoring, pitfalls can be avoided and high potentials will move through each phase of the development process as they strive to reach the top, creating the success stories of tomorrow.