HBR Article Highlights: Are You a High Potential?

Nearly all companies identify their high-potential managers. Processes for developing lists of high potentials vary, but the rising stars who make the grade are remarkably similar in their core characteristics and behaviors. In a sense, they share a basic anatomy.

The constitution of a high potential includes four intangible factors: a drive to excel, a catalytic learning capability, an enterprising spirit, and dynamic sensors that detect opportunities and obstacles. The best exemplars of the high-potential profile exhibit all four in spades.

Getting onto a high-potential list is extremely desirable, but it can demand great sacrifice. And the consequences of falling off the rolls after having been given the honor can be substantial and permanent.
The Anatomy of a High Potential

“High potentials consistently and significantly outperform their peer groups in a variety of settings and circumstances. While achieving these superior levels of performance, they exhibit behaviors that reflect their companies’ culture and values in an exemplary manner. Moreover, they show a strong capacity to grow and succeed throughout their careers within an organization – more quickly and effectively than their peer groups do.”

1. Deliver strong results – credibly
“Competence is the baseline quality for high performance. But you also need to prove your credibility. That means building trust and confidence among your colleagues and , thereby, influencing a wide array of stakeholders.”
2. Master new types of expertise
“Master the technical expertise that the job requires. As you progress, broaden that expertise. You start by managing an employee or a small group, and then move on to larger teams and positions that require you to exercise influence despite having limited formal authority. For example, in senior roles technical excellence might fade in value relative to strategic thinking and motivational skills.”
3. Recognize that behavior counts
“Outstanding skills never really diminish in importance, but they become a given as you are expected to excel in roles with broader reach. Prospective candidates for that coveted high potential label must demonstrate a behavioral shift from ‘fit and affiliation’ to ‘role model and teacher.’

Four X-Factors of High Potentials

“X factors” are intangible factors that usually don’t show up on lits of leadership competencies or on performance review forms.”

X Factor #1: A drive to excel
They are more than willing to go that extra mile and realize they may have to make sacrifices in their personal lives in order to advance.

X Factor #2: A catalytic learning capability
Many people out there learn continually yet lack an action or results orientation. They have the capacity to scan for new ideas, the cognitive capability to absorb them, and the common sense to translate that new learning into productive action for their customers and their organizations.

X Factor #3: An enterprising spirit
High potentials are always searching for productive ways to blaze new paths. They are explorers and take on the challenges of leaving their career comfort zones periodically in order to advance.

X Factor #4: Dynamic sensors
Successful high potentials have well tuned radar that puts a higher premium on quality results. High-pos have a knack for being in the right place and the right time.

Developing Your X-Factors
First, you must become aware of where you’re falling short. For instance, catalytic learning requires an interest in acting, not just learning. Self-reflection is key- time to invest time and energy.

High-Potential Status Has Its Downsides
1. There’s no tenure. People can and do fall off the list, and some remove themselves voluntarily or by default because they don’t have the time or the passion for the journey. Among the reasons for losing a spot on the list are making a poor transition into a new role, diminished performance two years in a row,
behavior that’s out of line with the company’s culture and values, and a significant visible failure.
2. Being singled out for extra developmental attention also can entail sacrifices in your personal life. Some people love to change jobs often, but for others that creates an enormous amount of stress, not to mention tough family-related and other choices.

Bottom Line…
Getting on a high-potential list can be a significant growth opportunity. However, you need to figure out not just how to get on the list, but why you want to in the first place. And that means soul-searching. Are your ready for high potential status? Is it what you really want? If so, the rewards of obtaining it can be huge; if not, then focus on your passions in other ways