April 2023

Top Five Obstacles & Remedies to High Potential Development

Unlocking the potential of your employees is vital to the success of an organization, but how do you go about it?

High potential development (HiPo) programs are becoming increasingly more popular; however, they also come with their own set of challenges. We, at Ascend Talent Strategies, are here to help! The following is a list of the top five obstacles our client organizations encounter when attempting to develop and sustain high-potential development programs. A general description of the obstacle is presented, followed by common remedies.

Obstacle 1: Making Development Programs Too Complex

The common origins of this barrier are the need to perfect programs, to add lots of unnecessary “bells and whistles,” and to measure up to Fortune 100 companies. The result we typically see is organizations that overwhelm (and eventually burn out) their leaders when attempting to implement and sustain these programs.  

Remedy: Keep it simple. Use the research that is available, talk to other organizations, and learn about which elements of a high potential program are most essential to success. Find out which program components generate a positive return on investment and bring in an expert when you need help.

Obstacle 2: Fear of Disclosing a High Potential List

Many organizations have a fear of developing an “insider’s club” that will be the envy of all other employees. The assumption is that such feelings of jealousy will cause contempt and ultimately lead to non-identified, highly talented, and valued employees leaving the organization or feeling ignored or undervalued.

Remedy:  Inclusion in attractive high potential programs can, in fact, inspire employees (particularly those who have potential) to learn how they can get in the next round of selection. Communicating the link between your organization’s strategy and high potential development, as well as sharing the definitions for potential can help employees understand the criteria for selection and motivate them to measure up to these expectations.    

Obstacle 3: Failure to Engage Senior Leadership

All too often, the HR department becomes viewed as the sole owners and drivers of high potential development programs. While HR professionals should be intimately involved in design and implementation of programs, high potential employees should be treated by executive leadership as their most valuable assets. Failure of senior leaders to invest in identified high potentials by sharing their time, resources, and growth opportunities can stall out even the most well designed and funded high potential programs.   

Remedy: Support from senior leadership for the development of high potential employees must extend beyond budget approvals and warm, fuzzy speeches. Spend time getting executive sponsor’s buy-in before starting your program and outlining their role. Executives must be willing to get involved in identifying and offering developmentally stretching work assignments, providing timely feedback and mentoring, and the ongoing removal of organizational barriers for their high potential employees. Using precious time within the executive meetings to discuss and review people, progress, and collaborative efforts to develop high potentials is key to a successful program.  

Obstacle 4: Programs That Lack Engagement and Sustainability

This is a catch-all obstacle which can take several forms. Developing programs that are not well explained to high potentials or that come across as “flavor of the month” initiatives is a sure-fire way to lose engagement. Failure to follow through on well laid plans or to hold people accountable (both high potentials and leaders who are expected to implement programs) is also a common killer of initial efforts. When the excuse of “not enough time” rears its ugly head, you know that it has slipped to a lower priority.

Remedy: High levels of engagement in high potential programs must begin and continue with clear, consistent communication. Program leaders and other sponsors must routinely solicit feedback, listen attentively, and be willing to change elements of the program that are not working or could be optimized more effectively. Also, careful consideration of how to reward and incentivize high potentials and their leaders should be included within early program design discussions.

Obstacle 5: Failure to Integrate High Potential Development with Real Work

Organizations can become overwhelmed with the seemingly daunting tasks of building and sustaining a successful program. Investing huge sums of money in outsourced solutions, while costly, is frequently seen as an easier, more robust solution to developing in-house development programs. Time and resources are spent developing simulations or made-up scenarios for the program instead of linking the program to real challenges the organization faces.

Remedy: Strategic planning, organizational development initiatives, and cross-functional team leadership assignments aimed at real-world challenges and opportunities facing your organization are free training and development courses. When well-coordinated, the combination of such experiences and coaching will add to crystalized learning and will equip high potentials with the most valuable knowledge, skills, and abilities they will need now and in the future.

If you are ready to invest in the future of leadership and grow your high potentials, but are not sure where to start, give Ascend Talent Strategies a shout!

Our Business Psychologists are ready to help you unlock the power of your potential!

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