Mythbusters Series: Emergence is not Effectiveness

hogan-mythbustersWe have some important advice for all the politicking, rising stars out there: before you dub yourself the organization’s next great scion, you’ll need to make sure you have the skillsets necessary to build and guide a high performing team. There are numerous reasons an individual may be nominated to represent a key part of the succession plan, but more often than not it’s because the employee is socially skilled, confident and interested in influencing. But just because one is generally rewarding to interact with doesn’t mean special resources should be dedicated to his or her advancement. Our point is this: When it comes to leadership positions, emergence does not necessarily equal effectiveness. This edition of our series debunks the myth that those identified as high potentials usually have the requisites for success at the higher levels. This is the story of the High-Pos, the Low-Pos, the Faux-Pos, and the So-sos.

At Hogan we define high potential as the ability to build and lead teams that can outperform the competition. Depending on the organizational strategy, the definition of performance can vary, and the criteria used to measure performance should be aligned accordingly. But these data should also be independent of the organization’s internal talent management systems. Examples include customer evaluations of performance, business unit revenue, accident reduction, and units produced. I say this because internal performance appraisals have shown to be problematic in identifying effectiveness due to questionable accuracy of raters and the politics embedded in the process. At its very core, the issues with an internal appraisal system stem from likeability factors that lead individuals to receive high or low ratings across the board. In other words, if a manager likes your personality, he or she will likely praise your other competencies (e.g. that age old favorite “Leadership”) as well.

But because so many organizations rely on performance rating forms and interviews with key stakeholders to identify their high potential employees, your Faux-Pos (those who talk a good game and know how to use their social faculties for advancement, but are unwilling to learn and/or put personal career aspirations ahead of team or company needs) are often mixed in with your Hi-Pos. Such lack of distinction can lead to detrimental results. In parallel, the So-Sos (those who work hard, are willing to learn, and believe in the company vision, but still need development around commonly noticed leadership skills) get grouped in with the Lo-Pos and are often left behind, leaving unknown opportunity costs. Research conducted by Luthans as well as by Lord, Vader & Alliger examine these concepts in further depth.

It may feel like after reading this, your nominations of the past have been nothing short of playing “Marco Polo” in your high potential pool. But this does not have to be the case. Matching personality profiles of previous high potential cohorts with data on long-term subsequent business performance can at least tease out general differences between the Hi Pos and Faux Pos of years past. With such information, and some additional organizational study, we may be able to then identify those potential-diamonds in the rough and responsibly widen the cache of future organizational leaders.