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Are Your HiPos Overrated?


People + Strategy | January 3, 2018

The People + Strategy article, “Are Your HiPos Overrated?,” was co-written by Russell Reynolds Associates Consultant Derek Lusk and Hogan Assessment’s President Robert Hogan and CEO Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic. The in-depth piece discusses the value of high-potential identification programs (HiPos) in predicting future leadership. The article is excerpted below.

After McKinsey introduced the notion of a “war for talent” 20 years ago, HR departments began to focus on ways to attract, develop, and retain star employees. Today, the war for talent goes on but is mostly fought in the leadership space. This makes sense because leaders impact whole teams, units, and organizations, and many businesses now devote substantial resources to identifying leadership potential as early as possible. The recent rise of high-potential (HiPo) identification programs represents the most deliberate and systematic attempt so far to place bets on those who appear most likely to occupy key leadership positions in the future (Campbell & Smith, 2014; Silzer & Church, 2009).

This paper argues that, to make HiPo interventions worthwhile, organizations must focus less on emergence — predicting who seems like a leader — and more on effectiveness — predicting who is capable of building high-performing teams. The fact that the base rate of managerial incompetence in corporate America — where funding for HiPo programs is the highest — is about 65%, suggests that many organizational leaders stress their employees, quash their engagement and productivity, and risk derailing both their own careers and entire organizations (Hogan, et al., 2010). According to several estimates, 70% of American workers say that they would take a pay cut if someone would fire their immediate boss. Clearly, then, HiPo identification programs tend to fast track many candidates who have little potential for leadership, and this suggests that many HiPos are in fact overrated.

In our view, typical perceptions of leadership potential are often biased in favor of loud and charismatic personalities, but such people are often unable to inspire individuals to work as high-performing teams. Leaders with such personalities often excel at politicking and self-promotion, which explains why they are often nominated as HiPos despite their limited potential for leadership. This article outlines a framework for helping organizations improve their HiPo interventions and increase the future representation
of talented leaders in their workforce. Our starting point is to define leadership adequately.

What is Leadership?

Most of the great human achievements in history have been the result of large-scale cooperation: e.g., digging the Panama Canal, constructing the Egyptian pyramids, establishing the United Nations in 1945 to prevent world wars, and building the international space station. These accomplishments would have been impossible without effective leadership, the process that persuades people to set aside their selfish agendas and work as members of a coordinated group to achieve something beyond the capacity of single individuals (Hogan & Kaiser, 2005; Van Vugt, 2006). Good leaders can turn a group of B players into an A team; bad leaders turn a group of A players into a B team. Good leaders encourage employees to identify with group goals while simultaneously pushing them to new heights of performance, including superior financial results (Kaplan, Klebanov, Sorensen, 2012; O’Reilly, Caldwell, Chatman, & Doerr, 2014). Conversely, bad leaders negatively impact employees and organizations and create poor financial performance even while often profiting personally (Kaiser, Hogan, & Craig, 2008).

Western notions of leadership tend to glorify individual outcomes (e.g., the leader’s career success), while ignoring the effects that bad leaders have on their teams and organizations (Hogan & Kaiser, 2005). We think that definitions of leadership effectiveness — and how organizations think about leadership potential — should focus on the performance of the group rather than the career trajectories of individual executives. Similarly, HiPo identification programs should focus on candidates’ ability to enhance the performance of their teams, mostly by encouraging cooperation among the members. As Charles Darwin (1871) observed, “a tribe including many members who were always ready to aid one another, and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, would be victorious over most other tribes, and this would be natural selection” (p. 132). Consequently, it is not enough for HiPos to emerge and be noticed, they should also have the talent needed to create a high-performing teams and units (R. Hogan, Curphy, & J. Hogan, 1994).

To read the full article, click here.

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Are Your HiPos Overrated?