treasure map UN043

Treasure Hunting for High Potentials: More than Just Pirate Maps, Myths, and Legends

Your list of future leaders might not be a clear and accurate representation of the High Potential landscape in your organization.

Note: the characters in the story below are fictional.

I was sitting across the table from Nadia when Mark, the Talent Manager, hurried in. He ran a hand through his hair, dislodging it further from what was once a neat quiff.
“Sorry I’m late, Nadia, just got off the phone with Jack.” Mark huffed.
Nadia blinked and raised an eyebrow. “And?”
“Yeah, he’s just handed his notice in.” Mark blew out a breath, flicking a gaze to Nadia, who raised the other eyebrow in response. “I’ve got a one-to-one with him on Friday.”
Nadia adjusted her glasses with a manicured hand. “That’s the third one, Jack was on the list.”
“I know. The list.” Mark repeated, biting his lip, and looking down.

My ears perked up—the list. There is always a list. Whether companies have it formalized, and common knowledge around the organization or not, there is always a list. A list of high potentials—of employees that are talented, that are marked for success. And this list, in turn, feeds into the succession planning strategy, training and development budgets, and the forward transformation of the company as a whole.

The importance of getting the right people on the list, then, is business-critical. I asked how they currently do this.

“The line managers nominate people in their team, people who are performing really well, generally,” Mark explained.

Okay, performance. They have got one element covered to spot rising stars. And the way they are doing it is not uncommon either, 73% of HIPO’s are identified on the basis of a single, subjective nomination. That nomination though is open to all sorts of bias. The list then is a rough sketch of the topography of the talent landscape based on a few busy managers’ opinions.

It is not enough. Drive and engagement are crucial too. Does Jack actually want it? Does he get a buzz from it? Is he motivated by what you are offering? A good, corporate salary, rewards and recognition, promotion? Is he committed to the organization? Does he talk about it with his friends and family? Does he have new ideas? Does he stay to get something finished? Does he think about work when he closes his eyes at night?

Clearly not, if he has just handed his notice in. Nadia pursed her lips. Mark looked forlornly at the floor.

That is the problem. It is hard to know these things about your employees. But this can be measured. We do not have to go on the hunt for buried treasure with just a scribbled map. We could use a more comprehensive map using objective, validated assessments, pulling together employees’ engagement, ability, and aspiration. Understanding who are the people in your organization to nurture for today, who are those who could go further, and who you should nurture for tomorrow. Mapping them out on a 5-box grid allows for real talent mobility planning. In an online platform that can be navigated and manipulated to show who the high potentials are, where everyone sits, and for what different roles. The list, therefore, becomes dynamic, living and breathing, full of hope and ambition, and is different for each talent pipeline. It is not just a list, it is a map of the future of your organization, complete with contours and a key and everything you need to know. 

It is hard to know these things about your employees. But this can be measured. We do not have to go on the hunt for buried treasure with just a scribbled map.

All is not lost, I say. Don’t worry about losing Jack.

Instead, they should keep an eye on Fleur. She is the real hidden treasure.

“Fleur?” Mark says, raising his eyebrows. “I don’t really know Fleur… Jack’s wins in his first 3 months were the stuff of legends…”

Jack’s performance might have been impressive, but Fleur wants it. Only 15% of high performers are likely to be high potential. Fleur burns with it. She gets a buzz from it. She stays until the job is done, she wants that promotion, and she loves the rush when she sees the bonus in her bank account. She talks to the other teams, keeps her ears close to the ground, and thrives off a tight deadline. She’s got ideas about how to do things differently. Where is Jack at the end of the day? Would he drive through the changes needed to keep up with the ever-changing world or work? 

Jack just resigned, and the answer is no.

What would he say if the CEO walked the corridors tomorrow and asked employees for the top thing they would change to make an impact on the bottom line, or why they get up and come to work every day?

Fleur would have plenty to say. Fleur should be on ‘the list’, not Jack. The Fleurs of the world can achieve great things if they are identified and nurtured along the way. Your line managers might have their own thoughts and feelings about who is a good performer today, but performance and potential are different things—and managers only see and hear so much. Engagement, drive, and key behaviors all make a difference. Your line managers may need extra help with spotting this in the tangled jungle of their own work priorities they are probably navigating as well.

Your line managers might have their own thoughts and feelings about who is a good performer today, but performance and potential are different things.

Don’t waste your budget on Jack, invest in Fleur. Before it is too late, she moves to a competitor and then is running the team in 5 years’ time and her organization outperforms yours.

Find the people in your organization who have the ability, motivation, and sticking power to make it to the top. Those with the can-do, but also the commitment to stay for the long term. Those who thrive off-work activities, the rewards you offer, those who can lead others, think creatively, and focus conscientiously. Those with the vision to take the organization forward. 

With objective assessment, you take the human interpretation out of the orienteering. Using SHL’s suite of assessments for identifying High Potentials has been shown to increase engagement, retention, and future business performance. The Mobilize platform also allows for seeing what roles people are best suited to and can deliver HIPOs that are 12x more likely to be effective in senior roles and 11x more likely to achieve executive positions. 

Would you rather go searching for buried treasure with a hastily scribbled impression of likely places to look, or with a comprehensive and objective map, complete with a compass, and a key?

Every company has lists. It is how they have been put together that is important.

Book a demo with us today and let us help you find high-potential employees in your organization!

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Helen Farrell

Helen Farrell is a Chartered Psychologist and Senior Consultant in the European Professional Services Team at SHL. Helen has a decade of extensive experience working in the talent assessment industry with a proven track record for delivering creative, custom solutions across a range of industries. Helen’s work with SHL has involved her managing and delivering on all aspects of a variety of assessment and development consultancy assignments, delivering training and undertaking executive assessment across a range of industries and job levels.

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