Engaging HiPos in the Workplace

Henry Ford is quoted as saying, “the only things worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.”

The reality is, unfortunately, companies have limited budgets and that forces them to be much more selective in how they go about training employees. It’s that reason that has driven the growing interest in high potential employees, also called HiPos.

Seeking out and identifying those high potential employees is one of the main focuses for Michele Parks. She’s the Vice President of Talent Management for Cox Communications. For her company, the process, which based on talent review and data collection, is not a short one.

“It almost takes a year to complete the talent review process for an organization our size,” Parks said. The process, Parks said, is split between several different parts of the company’s HR department.

“We formally evaluate director level and up; director, senior director, executive director, vice president, senior vice president, and executive vice president,” Park explained. Information from these reviews is put into the company’s human capital management software of choice and then compared to the company’s chosen competencies. From here, the data is further reviewed and eventually leads to the identification of high potential members of the current workforce employed by Cox.

The more potential an employee has, the less time and money it takes to develop them.

The Harvard Business Review studied how investing in the right people will maximize the company’s return. According to their article, a small portion of the workforce drives a large portion of a company’s results. They broke it down as follows:

  • the top 1% accounts for 10% of organizational output
  • the top 5% accounts for 25%, of organizational output
  • the top 20% accounts for 80% of organizational output

HiPo Attributes

Within the last year, the Harvard Business Review compared scientific research on predictors of job performance to the qualities in highest demand. Three general attributes were linked to high potentials.

The first is ability. The primary focus here is the individual’s ability to do the job assigned. It also includes whether the individual has the ability to learn and master the necessary knowledge and skill to continue to do the job, but to also be motivated to learn new knowledge and skills needed for further advancement.

Secondly, HBR identified social skills as an attribute of high potential employees. These individuals possess the ability to get along with others and earn the support of their leaders and co-workers. In a deeper explanation, high potential employees are able to manage themselves and the others.

The third attribute discovered by HBR is drive. This is simply the motivation to work hard, complete projects, and generally, do whatever it takes to get the job done. This particular attribute, HBR says, “is the accelerator that multiplies the potential influence of ability and social skills on future success.”

The Data

For Parks and Cox, a significant part of their process is collected data.

“I mean, you have to have data to be able to tell your story,” she said.

For Cox, the data used includes the general information about employees; race, gender, etc. and data related to high potentials. As part of their review process, those two families of data are then cross-referenced to compose a full picture of the workforce.

“If we have X percent African Americans in the population, let's say we're looking at the director level population, we then give [leadership] an exact percent to see if they are pulling out a proportionate percent of African Americans to be high potentials… as an example,” Park said.

She continued, “We're providing a lot of information on diversity and we are really honoring diversity in the workforce.”

Retaining High Potential Employees

Once high potential employees are identified, the process turns to developing those individuals and retaining them. Being supportive, communicative, and rewarding is key. Rewards often take the form of special forms of development.

Such is the case with Cox Communications.

“One of the things we did this year was once we figured out who the high potentials were, we would hold a certain number of classes or development programs exclusively for high potentials,” Parks said. They also wanted push the idea these high potential employees should take ownership of their development. The company makes available information that continues their development, but it is up to the employee to continue their education.

This is not a strategy only used for high potential employees, but also other employees. These developmental opportunities are available via a plethora of platforms.

“We have programs that are deemed to be high potential programs and then we have programs that are just, in general, for directors, managers, or supervisors,” Parks said. “There’s a group of programs that are aligned with competency. So, if you have a gap in a particular area, we have options for you to bridge that gap.”

Professional Development for a Business Team in a Company

Courtesy:  Stock Photo Secrets


For Parks and Cox Communications, the endgame is about finding the best talent possible for their multitude of job opportunities. This war for talent, at least for them, comes with a significant hurdle to overcome.

“I think the challenge always is people tend to pick, and have more of an affinity towards, generations and groups that are similar to themselves. I think, sometimes, you want the talent of the future but yet you're hiring the same talent that you have,” Parks said. “ It's constantly a struggle that needs to meet laser-like focus and work, so that you're not just replicating what you already have and truly valuing the from perspectives and skill sets and things you bring in.”

Michele Parks is the Vice President of Talent Management for Cox Communications. She is also a speaker at the Chief Talent Officer Exchange scheduled for September 23-25 in Arizona.