Employees designated high-potential (HIPO) are supposed to be an organization’s most capable, most motivated and most likely to achieve positions of responsibility and power. In fact, companies often institute formal programs to help prepare these employees for future leadership roles.

But more than 40 percent of individuals in HIPO programs may not belong there, says a recent article from Harvard Business Review.

Leadership development consultancy Zenger/Folkman measured the leadership capabilities of nearly 2,000 HIPO employees using a 360-degree assessment that consisted of feedback from immediate managers, peers, direct reports and former colleagues.

The results: Overall, 42 percent were below average, with 12 percent falling in their organization’s bottom quartile of leadership effectiveness. This from a group that should represent the top 5 percent.

The underperforming HIPOs were especially lacking in strategic vision and the ability to motivate others. So, why were these individuals chosen for their company’s HIPO program?

  • Technical and professional expertise. Having deep knowledge and expertise goes a long way in terms of getting a person noticed and valued.
  • Taking initiative and delivering results. Senior leaders are often willing to look beyond poor leadership skills when an employee is consistently self-motivated and productive.
  • Consistently honoring commitments. A reputation for follow-through earns trust and a willingness to look past other skills that may be lacking.
  • Fitting in to the culture of the organization. Employees who demonstrate traits valued by the organization can sometimes be considered HIPOs even though they lack other leadership skills.

See the full HBR article, “Companies Are Bad at Identifying High-Potential Employees.”

Topics Leadership