How Times of Crisis and Uncertainty Can Help You Spot High Potential

High Potential

In any company, few things are more important than having a strong pipeline of high-performing leaders. In this new COVID-19 era, leadership teams everywhere are now faced with making critical decisions in an environment that changes hourly. Leaders from every size of organization are required to exercise judgment in unprecedented scenarios.

At Hogan, we have long researched the personality characteristics of effective leaders in the midst of high-pressure situations. We have also closely studied the identification of high-potential talent, or talent that has the ability to build and lead teams that can consistently outperform. This is a unique moment in time to identify high potentials (HIPOs) and next-generation leaders. Such moments of crisis often provide incredible opportunities for HIPOs to be identified, as the demands for high-risk and high-visibility decisions increase.

There is a saying that “pressure will turn you into either dust or a diamond.” Thankfully, unlike the carbon under the earth’s surface that can form either crumbly coal or solid diamonds, depending on its environment, people have the ability to be strategically self-aware and make intentional choices about how to react to intense or unexpected pressure. We aren’t bound by the conditions of the environment we find ourselves in. We have choices.

So, how do organizations make the most of this opportunity to identify these HIPO “diamonds”? It is essential to start any talent identification process with a valid and reliable framework. After decades of research and working with clients around the world, we at Hogan have found that there are three different dimensions to consider when looking for the HIPO “diamond in the rough.”

The first thing to look for is competence in what we call Leadership Foundations, or the degree to which people are able to manage their careers well, are rewarding and enjoyable to deal with, and are good organizational citizens overall. Look for individuals who calmly and steadily reach out to assist others in solving difficult problems. You have likely already noticed them patiently working through the new challenges your organization is facing. You likely won’t find them doing this alone; you will see them pulling others together to work through details, ensuring that their efforts are closely aligned with the needs of the team and department.

The second dimension that we have identified as important for identifying HIPO talent is Leadership Emergence, or the likelihood that people will stand out from the crowd and lead from the front. These individuals look and feel like leaders. They instill confidence. You will likely see them as bright, quick, influential, and even charismatic in how they approach challenges. They are the people actively building connections and quickly taking action toward key challenges.

Many of today’s HIPO identification and succession planning processes significantly overindex identifying talent with emergent leadership behaviors, and it is easy to understand why. Emergent leadership behaviors ensure that individuals are noticed, not passed over. After all, is a diamond valuable if you can’t find it?

However, without the final dimension that we have identified for HIPO identification, many emerging leaders simply will not stand the test of time. HIPOs must also be skilled in critical competencies around Leadership Effectiveness. Our research at Hogan shows that true HIPOs must be able to work through others — achieving critical business outcomes, managing organizational resources and assets, planning proactively, and motivating others to work toward common goals. Effective leaders are patient and engaging, known for inspiring commitment and accountability.

The difference between emerging and effective leaders is often found in how each group spends their time. You might spot emerging leaders networking with key stakeholders and decision makers, but effective leaders more often go “heads down,” spending their time driving team performance. Interestingly, our research shows that these two groups overlap by only 10%. This small overlap between the two groups reinforces the importance of purposeful HIPO development.

As we face new challenges in the coming months, talent development for HIPOs, in particular, will be needed to help them become truly successful as they reach higher levels of organizational responsibility. Whenever you see up-and-coming talent with a ton of visible action and fast-moving energy, encourage them to keep their energy steadily focused on team results and better ways of working. To identify less visible leaders, look for trends in business results and team performance, and then work with those people to practice visible leadership “from the front.”

Organizations that take advantage of the numerous development opportunities that will arise during this time of crisis will find a strong and healthy pipeline of leaders for the future. We at Hogan are here to help you identify, develop, and retain these HIPOs in your organization. We know people.