As leaders, we’ve all had bright, ambitious talent on our team — brimming with potential and eager to make an impact within the organization. These driven individuals always want to prove their worth, climb the ladder, and carve out a successful career. Yet, despite the initial promise, their growth sometimes stalls, and their potential remains untapped. What’s behind this lack of progress? It’s often a story intricately woven with missed opportunities, ineffective development strategies, and a HiPo program in dire need of transformation.

High-potential programs, often referred to as HiPo programs, typically include customized learning and development, in-depth training, job rotations, mentoring relationships with senior executives, experiential learning, networking opportunities within the company or industry sector, and coaching.

These programs provide an advantageous strategy for talent cultivation, building the succession pipeline, retaining top performers, and allowing organizations to remain competitive and creative in the ever-evolving business environment. A HiPo strategy should align with the vision and goals of the organization, and focus on developing its most promising talent into future leaders of that vision.

Here’s what executives need to know about high-potential programs and how to empower your HiPo employees to drive their own career and company success.

Why HiPo Programs Matter

The purpose of a high-potential program is to identify, develop, and retain talent with exceptional potential for leadership roles within an organization.

When a leader feels underdeveloped or underutilized, they will leave to pursue new opportunities. And the knowledge that person has as well as the experience they’ve gained walk out the door with them—sometimes straight to one of your competitors, and to your detriment every time.

Losing your top potential talent is a loss for your competitive edge; it’s expensive for the company and a threat to its viability. These programs instead aim to accelerate their career growth — to, in turn, benefit the company.

What are the benefits of HiPo programs?

Companies that implement successful high-potential programs report both measurable and intangible benefits that foster growth and success.

Enhances Organizational Performance

Cultivating finely-tuned decision-making skills creates greater efficiencies, saves time, allows for optimized resource utilization, reduces conflict, and boosts productivity, among other advantages that enhance organizational performance.

Increases Engagement and Retention

By providing clear career paths and development opportunities, organizations demonstrate their commitment to employee growth, leading to increased employee engagement and retention. Identifying and investing in leadership development during the early stages of an individual’s career means leaders can take on more significant responsibilities sooner, creating a strong foundation for their professional journey, accelerating growth, and paving the way for roles with greater responsibility and impact.

Future-proofs Your Company

Nurturing emerging leaders signals the organization’s commitment to success. Fostering a culture of learning leads to innovation for the future, fueling their leadership pipeline, shoring up succession planning, and maintaining a competitive edge in the market.

High-potential employees benefit from a combination of assessments, one-on-one executive coaching, and cohort learning to create an experience that fosters enduring positive change with lasting results.

Why Many HiPo Programs Fail

Despite employers recognizing the importance of effective high-potential programs, many fall short of expectations and fail to realize the benefits they aim to reach — because they overlook key insights indicative of successful outcomes.

Emergence Over Effectiveness Bias

Too often high-potential programs fail due to a focus on emergence over effectiveness. In these cases, managers have misidentified future leaders based on their charismatic personalities rather than their ability to inspire high-performing teams. It’s not uncommon for standout talent to excel in their skill set and self-promotion while lacking genuine leadership potential — stepping up into a spot in the program ahead of others who are a better fit.

To address these challenges, organizations must redefine their concept of leadership and implement more comprehensive strategies for assessing potential. By understanding the shortcomings of existing programs and adopting effective interventions, companies can enhance their leadership development initiatives and cultivate future leaders equipped with authentic and effective leadership capabilities.

Failure to Support High-Potential Employees

HiPo programs often lack relevance and fail to address the specific competencies and challenges faced by individuals in their roles. Concepts and skills learned in the program are not reinforced in real-world scenarios, so newly acquired knowledge doesn’t stick. They tend to operate like an academic program where HiPos attend classes to learn concepts, rather than an effectively tailored, hands-on learning and development program.

Another problem is, there’s often no proper practicum. Well-intentioned managers often give ambitious talent ‘stretch’ assignments or create visibility for them in important meetings. Without the right support, this approach can backfire or hinder growth. Programs fail to include job rotations and cross-functional collaborations with other departments or divisions, missing out on opportunities to provide exposure and develop lacking skills.

HiPo Programs Don’t Align with Company Goals

These initiatives also fail because they are not tied to the organization’s vision and goals. While HiPo employee development is the vehicle, the intended destination is company success. Participation in the program should not be a distraction from the participant’s job but an enhancement to their role and contributions.

The most effective programs use a personalized approach that allows for targeted growth and development tailored to each individual’s specific needs.

The Power of Combining Assessments, Coaching, and Cohort Learning

At bluSPARC™, we’ve found that successful programs include a combination of assessments, one-on-one executive coaching, and cohort learning to create an experience that fosters enduring positive change with lasting results.

Integrating these elements creates holistic growth and development for rising leaders — and ultimately the organization — with outcomes that include:

  • Enhanced self-awareness: By encouraging self-reflection, a comprehensive leadership development program helps leaders gain a deeper understanding of their leadership style.
  • Improved decision-making: By honing critical thinking skills, leaders are able to make better-informed decisions aligned with organizational goals.
  • Increased emotional intelligence: HiPos develop greater emotional intelligence to navigate challenging interpersonal situations effectively.
  • Strategic Mindset Adoption: Collaborative learning fosters the co-creation of knowledge by accessing the input from different functional leaders resulting in a broader understanding of the organization.

Identifying Potential Through Assessments

Assessments play a crucial role in evaluating key talent and tailoring development plans based on individual strengths and weaknesses. Assessments provide insight into one’s personality traits, affecting how a leader shows up to others. How can you know where you need to go, if you don’t know where you are at?

Through assessments, we’re able to evaluate various leadership competencies for leadership roles, such as strategic thinking, communication, emotional intelligence, and problem-solving propensity. We can identify personality characteristics that inform how people lead themselves and lead others, such as their resilience, self-regulation, sociability, affiliative skills, and values.

Assessments also offer feedback and self-awareness on leadership behaviors that impact others and organizational performance. Additionally, an assessment provides benchmarking and succession planning by identifying candidates for key leadership roles.

bluSPARC™ proprietary assessments offer customized evaluations designed to align with your organization’s specific needs and goals.

Collaborative Growth Through Cohort Learning

Cohort learning is a powerful approach to developing leaders in HiPo programs, fostering cross-functional learning and collaboration among leaders.

Learning is social. By creating a supportive environment, cohort learning encourages:

  • Structured learning activities: These targeted exercises help participants build essential leadership skills.
  • Peer-to-peer knowledge sharing: Participants learn from each other’s experiences and perspectives, enhancing their understanding of different business functions.
  • Networking opportunities: Building strong professional networks can be crucial for future success, as they provide access to valuable resources and support systems.

This type of collaborative advancement provides not only a quicker way for HiPos to improve but also helps build a collegial culture.

By investing in comprehensive high-potential programs that combine these three aspects, organizations can unlock the full potential of their rising leaders.

Guiding Potential Through Executive Coaching

Finally, executive coaching is the element that drives progress within these programs.

A skilled coach acts as a guide, enabling leaders to derive meaning from their experiences and navigate the complexities of their professional lives. They use their training and ‘been there, done that’ background to offer valuable feedback that supports and nurtures future stars, helping them develop the specific skills proven vital for success.

Overall, the collaborative nature of coaching provides clarity, helping HiPos make sense of challenges, navigate change, and seize the right opportunities. The dynamic relationship between coach and coachee allows for proactive support, ultimately unlocking true potential and facilitating personal growth.

Set Your HiPo Program Up for Success

Allowing your high-potential employees to go underutilized and underdeveloped is like opening the door and asking them to leave, taking your competitive edge with them. By investing in the right strategies and resources, we can unlock the full potential of your future leaders and secure a thriving future for your organization.

If you’re looking to implement or improve your HiPo program, consider working with bluSPARC™. Our team of experts can help you identify and develop the next generation of leaders through customized assessments, executive coaching sessions, and cohort-based learning experiences. Contact us to schedule a leadership review.