Good leaders matter – a lot. They can inspire, persuade, motivate and energize, and enable organizations and the people who populate them to accomplish objectives they never thought possible. While a company’s leadership capacity is always a critical enabler of business success, companies of all sizes seem to be paying even more attention to the quality of their current and future leaders right now. Consider, for example, in a January 2011 survey of human resources professionals, researchers at SMU’s Cox School of Business found 98% of respondents projected continuing current levels or modest increases in spending on leadership training in 2011, even in the face of continuing economic uncertainty. Two-thirds of those surveyed indicated their companies would be focusing specifically on their “high-potential” programs.
Reasons for this increased attention on the topic of high-potential leadership development include the recent spate of high-profile leadership failures (Hollenbeck, 2009), increased attention from corporate boards, heightened recognition that a company’s top talent is always mobile (even during a tight labor market) and general dissatisfaction with the leadership development offerings of many companies.
Over the past 50 years, industrial-organizational psychologists have markedly advanced the science and practice of high-potential assessment. Better tests, more structured interviews, the use of assessment centers, competency models, more explicit concern for the construct of “fit”, 360-degree feedback, and the consideration of a wider and more diverse range of candidates all represent substantial progress in the field. However, with leadership “failure” rates hovering between 33% and 50% (Hogan, Hogan & Kaiser, 2011), depending on the study and definition, clearly much work remains to be done.
As the topic of leadership and in particular, high-potential leaders continues to be an increasingly important one for companies around the globe, here are a few key issues that we help our clients address as part of their approach to high-potentials:
- How is “high-potential” defined and measured? Personality traits, cognitive abilities, leadership skills, track-records, and many other data points should be comprehensively and objectively assessed.
- Who “owns” high-potentials, the enterprise as a whole or the divisions, functions and geographies that comprise the enterprise? Top companies with effective high-potential programs typically treat high-potential talent as a corporate asset, to be deployed across the enterprise.
- Should high-potentials be informed of their status, and if so, how and when? The trend today is toward candor and transparency for all job performance-related discussions, including those involving high-potentials.
- How fluid should a company’s high-potential talent pool be over time? The majority of PI clients now have dynamic high-potential pools, with employees cycling in and out each year, as the organizations collect more data on them, and as individual employees’ career aspirations evolve over time.
- What types of developmental assignments will have the most impact on accelerating high-potential job performance? Many different types of assignments are available (e.g. new roles, special projects, mentoring, formal coursework, etc.) but two keys to a high-impact learning experience include (a) clear learning objectives, (b) ongoing feedback and support.
As companies continue to reevaluate their own approaches to high-potentials, here are some common mistakes to avoid:
- Not having a program at all.
- Assuming high-potentials are highly engaged.
- Equating current high-performance with future potential.
- Lack of senior management personal involvement and ownership.
- Treating high-potentials like everyone else (e.g. compensation).
- Not linking high-potential developmental experiences to the company’s overall business strategy.
- Lack of talent-tracking metrics.
Using behavioral assessment tools like the Predictive Index® System can help companies:
Identify an individual’s strengths and weaknesses.
Identify potential performance “de-railers”, and strategies to bridge these gaps.
On board high-potentials into their next developmental assignment.
Increase the efficacy of an individual high-potential’s self-directed development activities.
Facilitate team-building and improving mentor-protégé rapport.
Facilitate individual coaching efforts.
Examine organization-wide trends in the personality traits of high-potential employees.
This topic was presented in July at the annual International Personnel Assessment Council (IPAC) Conference in Washington, D.C.