Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Engaging the HiPo


  I’ve been dipping into some of HCI’s Engagement & Recognition conference in Chicago (and streaming) today.

There have been a number of great sessions including from Stuart Crabb at Facebook, and Joris Luijke at Atlassian – I may post on these later if I get time.  But I was particularly impressed by a session from Leah Haunz Johnson at the Corporate Leadership Council: The Disengaged Star: re-engaging your high potentials.

Stars?  Hi-po’s, the people who can be leading our organisations tomorrow, add nearly twice as much to company revenue and are 75% more likely to be successful in stretch assignments.

And disengaged?  Well in the past five years there has been a significant decline in hi-po’s emotional and rational engagement and in their performance. One in five hi-po’s are considering leaving their current company within the next 12 months.

The key point is that hi-po’s are particularly difficult to engage emotionally.  They tend to be uncertain about their career opportunities and unsupported in stretch assignments.

Leah Haunz Johnson listed four specifics managers can do to raise hi-po’s engagement (from HCI’s blog):

  1. Ask hi-po's to commit to the deal in return for recognizing their hi-po status.
  2. In return, increase hi-po’s certainty about their long-term career opportunity; this means id job families each hi-po has interest in experiencing.
  3. Hi-po’s are more engaged when managers deploy them in opportunities that match their career goals and when hi-po’s experience recognition and reward.
  4. Hi-po’s have an appetite for risk; give hi-po’s stretch opportunities, “crucible roles,” and fully support them, even in failure.



All good stuff but I do have concerns.  Firstly, over whether Hi-po’s really do have such a disproportionate impact on their organisations (vs Boris Groysberg research etc), and secondly, that even if they do, whether it’s really effective to try to engage them disproportionately.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are some easy and certainly effective things organisations can do to make their Hi-po programmes more effective – eg Leah’s point 2: asking Hi-po’s to commit to the organisation, as well as the organisation to them (as BT do) is a pretty obvious strategy.  But shouldn’t the deal always be two-way, regardless of the type of employee?

I’m struck by the fact that we didn’t mention Hi-po’s at all during David Zinger’s session last week.  And I suspect David’s belief is that organisations need to focus on engaging all their people to the best extent possible.  After all, people are engaged through other engaged people, so simply trying to engage one particular group in isolation is unlikely to work.

And I was also struck by Joris Luijke’s comments about teaming at Atlassian.  They’ve replaced their individual bonus programme by a common 8% addition to salary.  In Joris’ view, the previous arrangement just wasn’t worth the ‘disruption to society’.  Perhaps we’d get a bigger impact on engagement if we didn’t have Hi-Po programmes at all?



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