When High-Pots Believe in the Uniqueness of Their Special

RJ Morris Career Paths, Employee Coaching, Employee Development, Good HR, Leadership, RJ Morris, Talent Management

In the Talent world, we hear about high potential employees all the time. “She’s a high-potential; that team is loaded with high-pots; we need a high-pot to take on that unit.” Everybody wants someone labeled as a high-potential talent.

Everyone, that is, except for a high-potential leading a team. One of the biggest challenges I have seen is getting a high-potential manger to stretch, develop and reward another high-potential on the team.

What? You mean having a high-pot report to another high-pot doesn’t work? How can that be? Take your fast rising star and have her manage a high rising star. Isn’t more awesomeness better? Sorta.

First, you need to decide what high-potential means in your firm. It is usually about career velocity—based on what we know now, how quickly can that person move into other roles? Two roles in 7 years? Two roles in 5? Every firm is different.

Next, look at what happens to high-potential employees in their early career:

  • Exposure to multiple teams
  • Assigned to special projects and cross-functional teams
  • Stretched into challenging roles
  • Promoted quickly
  • Compensated above average
  • Access to executive leadership

So, one dirty secret in HR and Talent is that a core part of the DNA of most high-potential employees is a fair degree of ego. They’ve been told for years that they’re killing it, that they’re different, that they’re…special.

They are special. The problem is that they believe in the uniqueness of their special. They believe that they’re one of a kind…that the opportunities and advancements they have had are a result of a rare phenomenon: their incredible talent.

So, they fail to reward, recognize and develop their own high-pots. They undervalue the special talents that their direct reports bring to the table. As a result, they limit those high potential employees. All the things that happened to them slow down:

  • No, Tommy needs some more time on this team to get deep knowledge
  • I can’t afford to lose Sally right now
  • Danny needs more time to cook
  • She’s not ready yet
  • That bonus feels more aggressive than he needs
  • She doesn’t need CEO face time–she needs to do her job

It’s crazy and it’s almost all unconscious. Most of your high potential employees are good people, but they suffer from thinking they are their own special snowflake. Their rewards that they received are due to them…and they are the only one who is special.

Keep an eye on this as you go through your talent management practices. You might have to stretch your high potential managers to stretch those below them. If not, you’ll end up losing top talent.

RJ Morris
I have spent the last 20 years of my professional life advising leaders to make great talent decisions to drive business results. In my current gig, I lead talent acquisition and management for a multi-billion-dollar, 100% employee-owned construction company. I geek out on analytics, succession planning, etc. and love it when we position folks to do their best work. That’s fun stuff. I tease bad HR people, because I think we can all do better, myself included. That’s fun, too.