Webinar Wrap-Up: Q&A and Key Takeaways on HiPo Development for Accelerated Succession Planning

“I like the cut of her jib.” “Just a great guy.” “Really well-liked.” “I just get a good vibe from him.” It’s not uncommon to rely on impressions or old fashioned gut instinct when it comes to  determining which emerging leaders within an organization have the potential to be major contributors later on. In fact, 43% of those on the line at today’s succession planning webinar said that their own organizations or those they work with would likely say that their succession planning strategy is best described as “keeping a few people in mind who could be good leaders.”

There are risks to this approach, however. Without a more evidence-based approach to HiPo identification, individuals with potential could go undiscovered, while individuals who may need more guidance in order to succeed in positions of greater responsibility may miss out on the developmental opportunities they need.

While moving to a more strategic succession planning model can be intimidating for some, taking a more methodical approach will build a bigger pipeline and provide more direction on whom to develop and how to develop them – giving you a deeper pool of internal talent to draw from when key positions open.

In today’s webinar, MRG’s Tricia Naddaff presented new research that supports the need for a science-based approach, and illuminates what’s required to turn today’s High Potentials into tomorrow’s High Performers.

The research paints an interesting picture of High Potentials, helping us understand how they differ from their non-hiPo colleagues.

  • Certain behaviors distinguish High Potentials from their non-HiPo peers; they are more likely to apply cognitive skills, and less likely than their non-HiPo peers to be careful and cautious
  • Highly Effective HiPos further distinguish themselves from HiPos of below-average effectiveness by showing greater flexibility, stronger communication, and more emphasis on relational behaviors like empathy and cooperation
  • Like all of us, HiPos have blind spots – they may see themselves as more social and friendly and less strategic and technical than they are in the eyes of their colleagues
  • HiPos are more motivated by giving, entertaining, and gaining stature than their non-HiPo peers, and they may get more energy from change and risk

There is no one-size-fits-all version of “development” – it varies not only based on the individual’s and organization’s needs, but also varies throughout the leadership journey, with greater stretches required at each progressive level of responsibility. The research revealed some interesting variations in the behaviors leaders must develop in order to progress to the next level of leadership.

Rather than aiming all developmental work at the behaviors that characterize the highest level leaders, an effective succession planning program will have phases, developing the skills HiPos need to be successful at the next level of leadership. An evidence-based program focused on continuous developmental opportunities will help individuals stay on track and engaged, and help the organization retain a pool of highly qualified internal talent – a winning strategy for all.

Did you miss the live webcast?

Catch up on anything you missed in the webinar by watching the video or getting the slides here.

With just an hour to explore all of this research and its implications, we really just scratched the surface of the subject matter. Keep an eye on MRG’s LinkedIn and Twitter for resources that will explore this research in greater detail. And read on for questions and answers from the webinar…

Q & A from the webinar

Q:  Can you please explain the process that you went through to select high potential leaders from the overall leadership group?

When observers take the LEA 360TM (the assessment used in the high potential leader study), they rate leaders on a competency regarding potential, specifically: “Future Potential i.e., has the ability to go beyond present level versus has reached his/her highest potential, is likely to be a major resource to the organization):” The rating for this competency is given on a 7 point scale.  We looked at the ratings for the 26,246 leaders in the study and we defined those who received scores within the top 10% of this competency as high potential.

Q: When we have employees go through LEA we tell them that they and their coach are the only ones who see the feedback. How can you measure high potential if the 360 feedback is used for development and not shared with the organization’s leadership?  

A: Development through coaching is often handled differently than development that is happening in an organization-driven effort to identify and develop high potential leaders.  In the former case, confidentiality is committed and adhered to.  In the latter, assessment data is made public, participants know what the targets are and know that they are being considered as a high potential candidate and therefore that their data will be made available to the decision-making body.  While there is certainly a heavy development component in succession planning, there is also an evaluative process that you are inviting internal candidates to participate in.  High potential identification and development, and ultimately succession planning, is actually a combination of an evaluation/hiring process and a development process. In order for the evaluation process to be more objective and more grounded in data, assessment feedback needs to be shared.

That said, when the developmental process is coaching-based development of an individual leader, then if coaches have access to the research insights regarding high potential leaders and the developmental leaps that need to be made to be successful at the next level, these insights can be shared with the coachee and be an important part of architecting the leader’s developmental plan.

Q: Regarding the Blind Spots you shared – does gender change those in any way?

A:    Our research shows many (subtle to moderate) differences between the way women and men approach leadership.  We have also recently completed a study where we looked at the impact of gender on ratings (both the gender of the observer and the gender of the leader being rated) and there are some definite differences in perceptions based on both the gender of the leader and the gender of the observer.  (You can take a look at the summary of those findings here.) Because of both of these factors, we are likely to see some differences in blind spots based on gender.

We haven’t run this gender analysis on HiPo blind spots specifically, but stay tuned for some follow-up research that will explore this further.

Q: Does a higher exaggeration score raise risk for Blind Spots?

A: That’s a good question! We’ll take a look at this for a future blog post – stay tuned!

Q: On the table comparing what to place emphasis on for different leaders (above), are the behaviors targeted for development listed in any kind of order/prioritization?

A:   Yes, they are listed in descending priority order. If you like to get into the details of data like this, you may also be interested in looking at the effect sizes of these differences, which you can find here. We’ll share more of a data deep dive in a follow-up resource.

Q:  Can you share “success stories” of how MRG assessments have been used at organizations for effective HiPo development programs?

A: We’re eager to develop a broader library of case studies so we can provide MRG network members and the public with useful examples of how these programs can be implemented and the transformative impact they have on individuals and organizations. Please look for these in the resource center. And if you are an MRG client with a story to share, please reach out to me (Lucy) directly at lucy.sullivan@mrg.com. I’m eager to find intriguing case studies!

Q: That was a wonderful definition of leadership Tricia gave as we were looking at High Potential leaders – can we get it in writing?

A:  Of course! “Leadership is creating an impact on others in order to achieve a certain outcome or outcomes in a certain context with a certain set of resources.”

Q:  I saw the data was global, but I’m surprised this isn’t considered a western profile. Did the data not show a different set of competences for leaders in Asia? Also, the norm group is US but it’s a global study – can you explain?

A: We actually do high potential leadership research by region and there certainly are some regional differences (and just as an interesting side note – countries like Sweden and the Netherlands show much greater variation compared to North America than, for example, China).  However, when we look at measures of effectiveness across cultures (either defined by future potential or overall effectiveness), the regional differences are much smaller than when we just compare leadership patterns by region.  With this study, what we wanted to look at is what shows up when you look across multiple countries (in other words, what patterns might transcend regional culture).

Regarding the use of the US norms for scoring purposes, there are some real limitations with architecting global norms so we default to the US norm because it is the largest, most diverse norm group. 

Q:  If we define Succession Planning as reaching outside the organization and including “highly technical candidates competing for individual contributor positions” in industry, would the MRG analysis of the top 10% individual contributor behaviors represent behavioral goals for us to use as a “model industry performer” AND the First Line behaviors represent desired leadership goals?

I would say that the research we shared in the webinar would be a good start.  However, as we shared in the webinar, there are variations in the high potential profile based on industry, country, professional function and even gender and age.  So while the global research is a good starting point, you would also want to look at some of our other research (both the high potential/highly effective research, as well as some of our country differences research) so you could account for some of the contextual differences in leadership in the hiring process. Get in touch with us at research@mrg.com, and keep an eye on your inbox for some deeper explorations of this data.

More questions? We’re happy to answer them any time! Email us at research@mrg.com.


About the author

Lucy is the Head of Marketing at MRG. She's a passionate people person who talks with her hands even when she's on the phone. She will not rest until everyone on earth has taken their IDI.

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