One strategy for developing good leadership is to identify “high-po” employees, and to enroll them in programs designed to help them reach maximum potential. But are “high-potential” programs really good for your organization? Or do the negative effects of such programs outweigh the positive intentions?
I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review that asked this very question. According to the author, Douglas Riddle, high-potential programs have several negative side effects, one of which is creating entitled prima donnas.
According to Riddle, when high-potential programs are portrayed as a reward for people who are perceived as “special,” participants rarely feel motivated to shoot for the stars. Instead, they grow arrogant. Rather than being motivated by achievement, they are motivated by attention.
This got me wondering: Is it possible to develop a high-potential program without completely ruining your best employees in the process?
I think it is. During my many years of experience in leadership training, I’ve seen high-potential programs that have had a positive impact on leadership strategy. These programs have several things in common:
- Approach. Effective high-potential programs aren’t about rewarding uber-talented employees, or about recognizing them for their abilities. Instead, they are about finding ways for employees to prove their mettle and to prepare for greater challenges ahead. Employees should be focused on meeting higher demands and on producing extraordinary results, not on being recognized for how great they already are.
- Contribution. High-potential programs that succeed put the focus on what the employee can do for the organization, not what the organization can do for the employee. When determining who is eligible for high-po programs, organizations shouldn’t ask employees why they want to participate in the program. This puts the focus on advancement. Instead, organizations should ask potential participants what they intend to contribute.
- Clarity. Organizations with successful high-potential programs choose candidates fairly, and according to clearly defined parameters. To avoid participants thinking they have been chosen because they are “golden” or are “favorites,” organizations must develop a clear set of criteria for selection, and communicate criteria to the organization. When there’s a sense that everyone is competing on a level playing field, employees focus on achieving instead of resting on reputations.
A high-potential program can be a huge asset to your leadership strategy, but you must be wary of spoiling potential leaders in the process. One way to ensure that you get all the benefits of a high-potential program without the negative side effects is to ask a qualified leadership coach to help you manage the process. Executive coaching can help your organization fairly identify potential participants, develop a high-potential program that focuses on achievement, and increase the number of good leaders that come out of your program while reducing the number of entitled prima donnas. To learn more about how executive coaching can help you structure effective high-potential programs, contact TurnKey Coaching Solutions at 281-469-4244.