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…Okay, so over the weekend I read an outstanding blog post from CEB here. It talks about how to distinguish between high performers in their current roles (who are doing good work but may not be a good fit at higher levels) versus the kind of talent that has the potential, desire and commitment to keep progressing. It turns out that – if you are in fact like 83% of companies – only 15% of your high performers are promotable multiple levels above where they are now, and 55% of the folks in your HiPo programs today will be gone in five years. See the breakdown below of how that plays out in the aggregate companies reviewed (full study can be found in the link above):

55 Percent of HiPos Leave

Let that sink in a bit…

Okay? Let’s move on:

Again, I would encourage everyone to check out some of the prevailing research behind the article here (e-book). Some of the material referenced – such as the 70:20:10 model around learning – is fairly table stakes/well understood stuff, I think, but the more powerful parts of the data deal with the fact that success at higher levels in an organization are contingent on talent having a combination of (1) aspiration to progress (2) ability, and finally (3) the often forgotten engagement/loyalty factor. See the below chart (from the same study) outlined below for more:
HR HiPo Overview #2

^What this chart basically tells us is that today you probably have:

  1. Folks in a HiPo program/tagged as HiPos that are very loyal/engaged and have aspirations for advancement, but little capacity for growth beyond their current role.
  2. Employees with tons of talent and loyalty but little interest in progressing beyond their current level.
  3. Talent with tons of ability and aspiration that are flight risks due to low organizational engagement and/or a perception that they can do better elsewhere.

…The paper notes that those employees who lack even one of the three characteristics above have less than a 40% chance of success at the next level. This means that organizations needs to be extraordinarily thoughtful about who they invest resources in. Talent isn’t enough. Desire isn’t enough. Loyalty isn’t enough. It’s important to really figure out a way to measure all three characteristics to maximize ROIC in HiPo programs.

As is often the case with issues like this, the key to success is to develop a feedback process that encourages employees to (1) talk about their goals and (2) deliver feedback on what it takes to reach them. And if you’re going to put this process in place in a way that works, I think you need to be prepared to have candid discussions with the talent lacking one or more of the three key criteria outlined above around how to either (1) overcome and/or eliminate the derailing characteristic or else (2) align on career expectations in the absence of that possibility. A few key points:

  • This means that for your loyal and engaged – but average ability – talent you have to be prepared to give some candid feedback around capabilities and be prepared to invest the time and resources into developing that person around the areas where they are lacking (or failing this to have frank discussions around what sort of success is possible internally. You also need to put in place a total rewards and recognition package that recognizes and keeps this talent engaged if further progression is not possible).
  • For your high engagement/high talent but low aspiration folks, you have to be willing to (1) get at what has got them unwilling/disinterested in progressing and (2) be patient and/or content if they don’t want to progress any further. Sometimes high capability+engagement but low aspiration employees just have other things going on in the moment (e.g. they may have personal/family issues going on outside of work) and want to take a step back for a while. Or they may have just found their niche. In the former case, time + flex work arrangements can position this talent to move up going forward, and in the latter case these people make good continuity players that firm up internal knowledge management (on a related note, if these people are at risk of being blockers in a role that you want to use to step future talent up then you have to have a transition strategy in place to migrate your blockers into other roles where they can still add value, but that topic is long enough for another post…)
  • Finally, for your low engagement but high talent/high aspiration folks, it is important to have a careful hand here. Are these people unhappy with their long-term comp outlook? Do they see limited opportunity for advancement go forward? Are they just not a cultural fit? This group can often times be the hardest to get aligned with, retain, and ultimately develop because they are the least likely to engage in a discussion around their derailing issues/concerns, but they are also a group that it makes sense to invest in re-engaging because they (anecdotally speaking) often have the highest upside if you can get them to buy-in to a long-term future with the organization. This is because – while often you can’t teach talent or ambition, generally speaking talented folks with ambition can be re-engaged if you can just get them to open up.

Along these lines, as it concerns our last group I want to share a final graph from the CEB study (again read more here and here):

ROIC Max Engagement

^This should trigger a few ideas around the sorts of discussions and programs you can put in place to engage your high talent/ambition population that might otherwise become a flight risk. The big piece seems to be giving them ample opportunities to take on high risk/reward opportunities while making it clear that you have their back if they fail.

As always share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Happy Monday.