The Myth of the New High Potential Employee in the Digital Era

We need to identify a different type of HIPO because digitalization requires a different kind of leader. Myth or reality?

We’ve heard a lot of talk recently about digitalization and the leaders of the future. The extent of digitalization today and its impact are unparalleled. According to a recent survey, 87% of business executives agree that digitalization is a priority for their company. And they expect its impact to grow: 67% of those same executives believe their organizations must become significantly more digitized to remain competitive.

The process of moving to digital business strategies, products, and services alters how organizations operate, how work gets done, and the contexts in which employees do their jobs. To succeed, these organizations must attract, hire, develop, and retain the talent they need to meet their strategic objectives.

In their quest to secure the “right” talent for this digital era, many organizations are starting with their most critical talent, the employees with the greatest potential to lead them forward into the future. Unfortunately, their high potential (“HIPO”) strategy could be grounded in some false assumptions.

Here’s how this myth goes:  We need to identify and develop a different type of HIPO because digitalization requires a different kind of leader. Given the uncertainty of future leadership roles, we need HIPOs who are agile, possess unique, “digital” skills and who are likely to perform in any leadership role.

A closer look at the reality doesn’t support this argument. Let’s view this through the lens of SHL’s three-part model of high potential which defines successful HIPOs by their ability, aspiration, and engagement.

In our previous blog on digital talent, we dispensed with the idea that agility is the key ability to unlocking the performance of digital talent.  This applies to leaders as well. The core competencies of successful leaders have not fundamentally changed. More important is their effectiveness at applying existing competencies to new digital contexts, especially competencies like creativity and innovation, critical thinking, collaboration, and initiative.

What about aspiration and engagement? Does digitalization change their importance or how they work? Actually, no. SHL research finds that no matter the work environment or context, the most successful HIPOs demonstrate the same aspiration and engagement to perform in future leadership roles.

What should change is how your organization prepares its future leaders.  With greater uncertainty, HIPO development becomes a journey taken one step at a time. Organizations should look ahead to each HIPO’s next role, focus on defining the specific challenges of the digital context associated with that role, and then provide development experiences that build their readiness for those challenges.

In short, to ensure your high potential employees are well prepared to become the digital leaders of the future, transform how you develop them not how you define them.


Author: Mark Van Buren