A Lesson About High Potential Identification

A consumer goods company that created a new high-potential identification and development program wanted to understand how the personalities of its 20 designated high-po’s compared to their senior executives. Most of the executives had taken the Hogan personality assessments (123 in total) and all of the high-po’s took them as part of the development program.

We compared the scores for the two groups on the Hogan HPI, HDS, and MVPI. The results showed some similarities but also some important differences, especially on the HPI and HDS.

The high-po’s were distinguished on the HPI by higher scores on Interpersonal Sensitivity and Prudence and lower scores on Inquisitive, suggesting a kinder, gentler demeanor with a conscientious, practical focus on the tactical details of execution. The executives showed the inverse pattern, suggesting a more direct, tough-minded style and a greater focus on the strategic big picture and tolerance for ambiguity.

These themes were reinforced on the HDS results, where the high-po’s were distinguished by higher scores on Cautious, Diligent, and Dutiful—derailing tendencies involving risk aversion, micromanagement, and an eagerness to please and avoid conflict.

These results suggested that the high-pos, as a group, had more in common with reliable doers and good followers than with strategic business leaders. It appeared that individuals were identified as high potential because of their track record and current performance rather than signs that they could succeed in a senior role. A thorough review of the high-po nomination process was conducted and concluded that there were several opportunities for enhancement.

The process was redesigned in three ways. First, an explicit definition of “high potential” was articulated with five critical personal factors that emphasized the capacity for strategic thinking, risk tolerance, adaptability, and a balance between EQ and tough-mindedness in addition to the table stakes factor of drive and ambition. Second, the distinction between performance in current role and potential for a senior role was made clear, along with guidelines for how to consider the differences in scope, scale, and responsibility when assessing potential. Finally, instead of manager nominations alone, the new process included a rigorous debate among managers at the next level above each nominee.