Development Plans For HiPos: Complicated

Kris Dunn Engagement and Satisfaction, Innovation, Kris Dunn, Learning and Development, Organizational Development, Succession Planning, T+D

Let’s face it, most of you have high potentials at your company. Whether they work for you directly or are part of your extended team, they’re there.  Also, you may or may not have a formal succession plan in place and even if you do, you may or may not have told them they’re a part of it.

Translation: Thinking about high potentials is complicated.  It’s even more complicated when you throw in the following want/need:

“We’d like to put a personalized development plan in place for our high potential individuals.”

OK – I’d like to win a billion dollars. That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, right? Similarly, the path to putting a L&D plan in place for high potentials is fleeting at best.  Most of our organizations just aren’t set up to deal with the needs of the best – we’re set up to deal with the masses.

You know, the average people.

You’re still here? You want to know the best way to deal with creating a individualized development plan (IDP) for your high potential employees?

I’ve got 5 things for you to consider – do these 5 things well in your organization related to development plans for your high potential employees, and you’ve got a chance.  Check it out:

Don’t create a form or call what you’re doing an IDP. Forms and corporate-speak like IDPs are where real efforts to develop people go to die.  If you’re an HR leader, resist the urge to formalize your proceed to this degree.  Instead, know who the high potentials are, know what you want to make available and start having real conversations with the managers of the high potentials.

Make the offer of more training, more access, special projects – whatever you’re basing the development offers around – center around the manager of the high potential. Let’s face it, your managers are the pivotal relationship when it comes to engagement, culture, morale, etc. Don’t ruin the potential of the relationship by swooping in with your corporate program as the centerpiece.  Let the manager have some credit.  Be secure that hanging in the background as a puppet-master is OK and at times even better than jockeying for credit.

Understand that any development efforts you make towards high potentials is going to be half about money and half about access.  Confused?  Allow me to explain.  The biggest error most people make when it comes to developing high potentials is making the effort all about formal training/conferences or all about internal work with no visible spend.  Neither approach will work well – you need a balance. You have to spend some money to make the high potential feel the love and you have to deal with politics and get them deeper access to project work than others have in your organization.  Only through this balance will the effort feel real.

After all that effort, the manager of your high potential needs to understand that growth doesn’t happen unless a feedback loop is involved.  Smart managers understand that they have to ask for what a high potential learned at an external event and then put it into play in the work the individual is doing day to day.  In similar fashion, any special projects you assign to the high potential come with the burden of feedback.  You have to tell the high potential how they are doing, how they can improve, etc.  The true high potential understands the value of feedback – as long as you frame it in the spirit of trying to get them to the next level.

–Finally, and most importantly, your managers have to have the hat of “career agent” on at all times.  All efforts to develop (internal or external) a high potential have to be presented with the lens of what’s next – even when you can’t tell them “what’s next”.  If you’re going to formalize anything in your high potential program, training managers on how to present themselves as the career agent for the high potentials on their team might be the most important thing you can do.

You’ve seen succession plans die a painful death via spreadsheets and binders at your company.  Resist the urge to over-formalize the development of high potentials.

They can smell a three-ring binder a mile away – and it feels fake to them.

FOT Note: This rant is brought to you by the good folks at Meridian, who like us enough to be an annual sponsor at FOT for all content in our learning and development track (and don’t expect that we run any of this by them ahead of time). They’re also up for having fun to the extent that they’re sponsoring the Learning and Development Hangout Series. Check it out!