Best Practices for Creating a High-Impact, High-Potential Development Program

By Traci Delgado
Traci Delgado headshotGreat leaders are hard to find a
nd even harder to retain in a hyper-competitive market. Even the best-laid strategic plans can go awry if an organization fails to build a strong pipeline of future-ready leaders who can navigate the complexities of today’s business world. Your high-potential (HIPO) employees are critical to your organization’s current and future success.


HIPOs are 91% more valuable than non-HIPOs and generate up to 3.5x their total compensation for the business. (Corporate Executive Board, 2014)


Determine what ‘high potential’ means for your organization

The Corporate Leadership Council defines a HIPO as an employee who has the ability, organizational commitment and motivation to rise to and succeed in senior positions. The definition flexes to the needs of the organization and business strategy.

To identify your HIPOs, first, determine your organization’s goals and long-term business strategy. Next, define the critical competencies and leadership behaviors that will drive your organization’s strategy and direction. Finally, determine the amount of energy, effort and attention that should be given to each behavior. This process will cascade through the ranks to provide clarity on key behaviors needed to succeed in lower-tier managerial roles.

Now, you can calibrate your definition of a HIPO and begin to differentiate them from your other employees.

Don’t mistake high performance for high potential

According to a 2017 study conducted by Kensington’s strategic research partner, Management Research Group (MRG) of 26,000 leaders in 30+ countries, the difference between high potentials and other employees is that HIPOs tend to think more strategically, demonstrate strong problem-solving and decision-making abilities and have a stronger orientation toward achievement.

HIPOs demonstrate value through drive, accomplishments and vision. They maintain high expectations of themselves and others and as such contribute to a high-performance culture.

Take HIPO selection beyond a gut feeling

There are valid and reliable research tools that can help an organization develop their HIPO profile, which improves accuracy and eliminates bias. When used in conjunction with interviews, assessments can help you accurately identify and select HIPO candidates that align with your profile and demonstrate the leadership behaviors you want to see in your organization.

Engage your HIPOs or risk losing them

Most HIPOs know that they are outperforming their peers. Without proper engagement, some may seek opportunities elsewhere. It is critical to sustain HIPOs engagement and high productivity or risk losing them.

Before you can engage a HIPO, you need to understand them and their motivations. A recent study conducted by MRG of approximately 3,500 high potentials in 15+ countries gave us insight into what motivates a high potential leader.

HIPOs are more energized by being helpful and providing support to colleagues, gaining visibility and recognition from their organization. They are less motivated by structure, stability and are more engaged with risk and change than their peers.

Three tactics our clients use to engage their HIPOs

HIPOs love to learn, but not always in traditional ways. Implement a multi-faceted development program that includes the following to help your HIPOs reach their full potential and impact real business results:

  1. Rotational Assignments. Give HIPOs experience and exposure with well-planned, rotational assignments that stretch their abilities. Tailor each rotation to support a desired outcome for the individual and organization and base it on your HIPOs specific development needs.
  2. External Coaching. Challenge your assumption that executive coaching is only reserved for your C-Suite. Organizations now recognize it is an effective way to accelerate and strengthen HIPO development. With insights from 360 feedback and interviews, the coach and HIPO can target key strengths and blind spots, and prioritize areas of development.
  3. Action Learning. Some of the most impactful learning experiences involve challenging individuals or cohort teams to tackle immediate business goals or needs, such as enterprise-wide projects. With coaching and mentoring to support participants, the action learning team can own the process and learn first-hand the impact of cooperation, persuasion and communication to achieve success. Teams present their findings and recommendations to senior leadership.

Invest in your future leaders and reap the benefits

HIPOs are your organization’s future leaders. Develop and engage them well at every level of their career and they will be your biggest competitive advantage. Take an objective, scientific approach to HIPO selection, give HIPOs the best opportunities to learn and grow, and watch them flourish and drive success within your organization for years to come.

Traci Delgado is a VP of Client Relationships for Kensington International. Passionate and pragmatic, Traci develops talent management solutions for her clients that address their needs and yield meaningful, measurable outcomes. Traci’s expertise is in engaging and developing top talent. You can email Traci or find her on LinkedIn.