Organizations have limited resources when investing in their people. Many do not put nearly enough dollars in their learning and development budgets and in times of economic pressure, many organizations cut these budgets. Even the companies that are committed to employees as their first priority are only investing in certain populations; primarily “High-Potential” employees.

So how does an organization identify its High-Potentials or “HiPos”?

The primary driver for many organizations is the performance rating; that is if they are still using ratings in their performance management processes. The top-rating which is usually no more than 10-15% of the employee base identifies the “high-performer” population. These high-performers are often assumed to also be “HiPos”.  Since past performance is a predictor of future success the assumption is that these employees will also be high-achievers in advanced roles. This is a key factor, but not the only one. More sophisticated companies use other tools to identify HiPos. These may include talent assessments, competency-based reviews, and succession planning tools such as the 9-box.

Regardless of the tool that is used, it comes down to how your leader rates you. Your performance rating or potential designation is driven by your manager with review and approval from his/her leadership chain. Of course Human Resources Business Partners have influence and are there to guide leaders in making objective assessments and ensuring consistency in criteria. However, overall leadership makes the final determination.

Even if you believe your manager views you as a HiPo, it may not be enough. Most organizations have a cap on the number of individuals who can be designated as high-performers and HiPos. Your leader is held to a maximum number of employees and if you have a small team the chances are lower that you’ll be selected. Your leader may have the ability to fight for you, but it comes down to numbers and the bottom line is each leader up the hierarchy can only have so many HiPos.

So what can you do as an employee to stand out and be identified as a HiPo?

  1. BE ENGAGED. This is key. If your leader views you as disengaged, negative, or disgruntled you will not be sponsored regardless of your work performance. Organizations are making large investments in HR analytics and trying to turn talent management into a science.  What is the secret formula that makes an employee a great performer with unlimited potential? One of the ways they measure this is with employee engagement data. Studies have proven that organizations with higher-engaged employees outperform others by significant margins. So how do you be engaged?  See the additional 4 items below.
  2. BE POSITIVE. No matter the challenges you are facing and kind of day you are having, always remain positive. Don’t vent your frustrations to coworkers. Watch your body language in meetings and interactions with your boss. Don’t roll your eyes, be unattentive, or show others signs of disengagement. Rather, be the encouraging voice. Offer ideas to solve the challenges vs harping on the challenges themselves.  When others vent to you, be empathetic but don’t pile on to the negativity. Offer support and help your coworker to see alternative views or solutions to the issue(s) they are facing.

Note: It is important to have a resources who you CAN vent to. Make sure you connect with someone who will be a good listener, empathetic, and supportive. Don’t go to the already disgruntled negative co-worker who is just going to bring you down more.  Spending too much time with the wrong colleagues will associate you with them and impact your own brand. Rather, get in touch with other available resources such as your organization’s confidential Employee Assistance Program. Additionally, consider coaching services such as Life Journeys Consulting, LLC.

3. WORK SMART. This includes working hard, but on the right things. Make sure you focus on the priority items, If you don’t know what these are be sure to ask your leader. Also, be open to these priorities changing. Don’t get frustrated when they change, expect that they will. Additionally, look for new and better ways of doing things. Offer suggestions for improvement. Volunteer to work on projects. You have a lot to offer in your space as you are doing the work everyday and know clearly where there are problems, inefficiencies, waste, etc. Just be sure to offer solutions to any problems; don’t just point out the problem. Refer to items #1 and #2 above.

4. LISTEN TO AND ASK FOR FEEDBACK. This one is hard as it’s not always easy to ask for and hear feedback about ourselves. Leaders should inherently always be providing feedback to their employees, but many are not skilled in doing so. So if you are not getting feedback regularly from your leader, ask for it! After a project completion or meeting where you were presenting, ask your leader for feedback on what you did well and any areas you could have done better. This shows your leader your commitment to continued growth.

5. TAKE OWNERSHIP OF YOUR DEVELOPMENT. Do not rely on your boss or HR to develop you. You own your career. You can and should leverage resources such as your boss and HR, but do not rely solely on these. Create your own Individual Development Plan (IDP). Many organizations have templates and encourage these. Discuss your IDP with your boss. Ask them for inputs on what they view as your strengths and opportunities for development. Research what is available for training or other development resources within your organization. Many companies have a Learning Management System (LMS) that offers online training courses for free to their employees. Additionally, find a mentor. If your organization doesn’t have an existing mentor program seek a mentor out on your own. Develop relationships with leaders within the organization.  Great leaders are ones that are passionate about talent development and find fulfillment in guiding and coaching others. They love to share their knowledge, expertise and experiences. These leaders do not need to be in your own department. Talk to coworkers across your organization and you’ll be sure to hear about the great leaders that everyone wants to work for. Reach out to these leaders and ask if you could meet for coffee and advice or if they can recommend someone for you to meet with if they are unavailable.

If you do these five things consistently and over time and yet still are not being recognized as a HiPo and provided opportunities for recognition and advancement, consider whether you are in the right job, culture or company. If you don’t have a leader or other sponsor supporting you in these efforts you may consider finding another job within the company or elsewhere. Rest assured that if you are a highly engaged employee who exhibits these qualities you will have many employers seeking you out!

Best wishes in your career. May you find happiness and fulfillment in whatever you do!

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