Remarkable Employees: The Characteristics of High Potentials

Remarkable Employees: The Characteristics of High Potentials

In Organizations a “high-potential employee” is an employee who has been identified as having the potential, ability and aspiration for successive leadership positions within the company. Often, these employees are provided with focused development as part of a succession plan and are referred to as “HiPos.”

Research shows that top performing companies separate the evaluation of “performance” from “potential,” using tools like two dimensional grids (9-box, etc) to compare high-performers with high-potentials.

Research also shows that there are five elements to a world-class HIPO strategy:  Plan, Identify, Develop, Transition, and Manage. Fewer than 15% of companies have strong programs in all areas, and most fall short in identification of HIPOs and in the transition and management of HIPOs in their new roles. In fact one of the biggest derailers of leaders is a tendency for organizations to move them into high powered positions without enough transition support.

High Potential Characteristics

Great employees are reliable, proactive, accountable, great leaders and great followers… they possess a wide range of easily-defined—but hard to find—qualities.

A few hit the next level. Some employees are remarkable, possessing qualities that may not appear on performance appraisals but nonetheless make a major impact on performance.

Here are eight qualities of remarkable employees:

  1. They ignore job descriptions – The smaller the company, the more important it is that employees can think on their feet, adapt quickly to shifting priorities, and do whatever it takes to get the job done regardless of their role or position. When a key customer’s project is in jeopardy, remarkable employees know without being told there’s a problem and jump in without being asked—even if it’s not their job.
  2. They’re eccentric – The best employees are often a little different: quirky, sometimes irreverent, even delighted to be unusual. They seem slightly odd, but in a really good way. Unusual personalities shake things up, make work more fun, and transform a plain-vanilla group into a team with flair and flavor. People who aren’t afraid to be different naturally stretch boundaries and challenge the status quo, and they often come up with the best ideas.
  3. But they know when to dial it back – An unusual personality is a lot of fun… until it isn’t. When a major challenge pops up or a situation gets stressful, the best employees stop expressing their individuality and fit seamlessly into the team. Remarkable employees know when to play and when to be serious; when to be irreverent and when to conform; and when to challenge and when to back off. It’s a tough balance to strike, but a rare few can walk that fine line with ease.
  4. They publicly praise – Praise from a boss feels good. Praise from a peer feels awesome, especially when you look up to that person. Remarkable employees recognize the contributions of others, especially in group settings where the impact of their words is even greater.
  5. And they privately complain – We all want employees to bring issues forward, but some problems are better handled in private. Great employees often get more latitude to bring up controversial subjects in a group setting because their performance allows greater freedom. Remarkable employees come to you before or after a meeting to discuss a sensitive issue, knowing that bringing it up in a group setting could set off a firestorm.
  6. They speak when others won’t – Some employees are hesitant to speak up in meetings. Some are even hesitant to speak up privately. Remarkable employees have an innate feel for the issues and concerns of those around them, and step up to ask questions or raise important issues when others hesitate.
  7. They like to prove others wrong – Self-motivation often springs from a desire to show that doubters are wrong. The kid without a college degree or the woman who was told she didn’t have leadership potential often possess a burning desire to prove other people wrong. Education, intelligence, talent, and skill are important, but drive is critical. Remarkable employees are driven by something deeper and more personal than just the desire to do a good job.
  8. They’re always fiddling – Some people are rarely satisfied and are constantly tinkering with something: Reworking a timeline, adjusting a process, tweaking a workflow. Great employees follow processes. Remarkable employees find ways to make those processes even better, not only because they are expected to… but because they just can’t help it.

Closer Look

High potential employees are typically defined as employees that have the ability, motivation, and commitment to move to the next level. Not all companies take the time to identify their Hi-Pos in a purposeful and organized manner, yet these are the individuals who will be taking their organization and the business world into the future.

When taken together, high potential employees share some qualities that clearly set them apart from their peers:

  • They take ownership of their career path. High potential employees are proactive rather than reactive when it comes to career development and mapping out their path. They seek out opportunities and engage their manager and others in discussions about “what’s next.” They understand that new skills and competencies must be obtained in order to reach the next level and they look for ways to expand their experience in order to prepare for future roles.
  • They demonstrate flexibility. Instead of becoming pigeonholed as subject matter experts in one area or focusing on a specific skill, high-potential employees find ways to demonstrate their value and impact across the organization. Their openness to change, their ability to learn quickly, and their willingness to teach and train others often leads to new leadership roles and opportunities.
  • They know how to make friends. Technical skills can only take you so far in the business world. At a certain point, it is the “know-who” rather than the “know-how” that sets high potentials apart. They are capable and confident when it comes to developing and maintaining relationships. They know how to network and understand that networks must be “nurtured” rather than “used.” They seek out mentors and advocates who can provide valuable support and speak positively on their behalf. They are aware of others, of their impact on others, and take a genuine interest in getting to know people personally.
  • They are collaborators. Not only do high-potentials know how to make friends, they know how to collaborate and work with people across and outside of their organizations. They utilize their flexibility and interpersonal skills to work effectively across disciplines. Instead of adopting an “us versus them” mentality, they focus on involving and communicating with the right people in order to meet goals and solve business problems. They are valued members of their work and project teams and are well-liked by their colleagues.
  • They are driven and ambitious. High-potential employees have high expectations for themselves. This applies not only to where they are headed in their career but also to the quality of their work. They demonstrate a strong work ethic and consistent initiative. Proactive in nature, they can see or address needs and concerns without having to be given specific instructions or directions by their manager. In other words, they behave like owners.
  • They are receptive to feedback. While confident and self-assured, high-potentials acknowledge that that they; like all of us, are “works in progress.” They are open to feedback and strive to apply it toward self-improvement. In fact, they often seek out feedback from those around them in order to gain self-awareness and further their development. They leverage mistakes and setbacks as learning opportunities and focus on applying lessons to the future rather than dwelling in the past.
  • They earn the trust and respect of others. High-potentials earn the trust and respect of others by demonstrating high levels of consistency and professionalism. They can be counted on to keep their word and deliver results. They take their goals and responsibilities seriously without taking themselves too seriously.

It is vital for organizations to identify and develop high-potentials for future roles. This process is critical to effective succession planning and the continued success and productivity of any company.

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  • Braden Bills
    August 31, 2016, 7:52 am

    I think it makes sense that a company would want to keep an eye out for high potential employees. That way they know that they should spend extra attention on them, so that way they can improve! A high potential employee is flexible, after all.




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