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Create hipos yourself!

Do you know what ‘hipos’ are? No, just forget about those souvenirs about the zoo you might have! Hipo stands for High Potential; top talents in other words. As a coach, I have the privilege of partnering with those so-called hipos. As far as I’m concerned, it’s an exceptional species because each time again, I have to listen to business life’s complaints.

Finding top talents is a difficult job. Recruiting top talents and retaining them within the company appears to be even more difficult. So, whenever I visit a new company, I ask the same following questions:
  • How do you deal with hipos?
  • Do you use a standard description? Are there fixed criteria hipos need to meet?
  • Do you have a particular way of working? Do you have a ‘fixed system’ in order to spot and attract hipos?
  • Do you have a ‘fixed model’ for coaching hipos?

And what appears to be the case? There’s not really one structured answer. Most answers are confusing and it often comes down to improvisation. In this context, I was surprised when a CEO once told me that he actually didn’t care about it because it’s just the personnel department’s task! He added coolly: ‘What else would you pay those people for, anyway?’

Actually, it’s unbelievable how often companies are too carelessly dealing with talent coaching. Luckily, there are lots of good examples too. Now, I’m talking about CEOs who do care about a standardized approach. Let me call it a ‘toolkit for hipos’. They are closely involved in spotting and coaching top talents because they understand the importance of talent development.

High Performer
Hipos have the right DNA. They dispose of the talent to become true leaders. In other words: they are ‘potential leaders’, even if this doesn’t necessarily appear to be the case in their current job.

In order to illustrate this, I often use a second concept: High Performer or shortly ‘hiper’. Look for the ideal intersection on both axes (potential – performance) and you will definitely be right. The balance is decisive. This way, you’ll find the right people for a particular job.

Do you know the classic pitfalls? Indeed, a hipo might (too) quickly be tired of his/her current job. In this case, you must take action in time and avoid that your best people would leave the company after a period of boredom and lack of interest. Those regretted losses appear out of the blue but, actually, they are often predictable and can thus be avoided. Again: talent must be coached! Of course, there must be a basis, but the rest won’t follow just like that.

The scheme below has been confirmed by a large-scale MRG study (Management Research Group) in North America and Europe.

  Low Performer High Performer
High Potential Why low performing?
Risk: regretted loss!
Low Potential Challenge
Plan Career Transition?
Risk: burn-out!
Specialist tasks?

Conclusion? Companies and organizations should use objective criteria in order to spot and stimulate their future leaders at an early stage since true stars will only make better use of their talents when they get the challenges they need.

Personally, I use this list of parameters in order to spot hipos at an early stage:
  • Long-term thinking
  • Broad approach to problem solving
  • Decision-making through objective analysis
  • Thinking ahead and planning
  • Strong orientation toward achievement (for themselves and others)
  • Looking for and accepting challenges (and responsibility)
  • Feeling comfortable in fast changing environments
  • Learning fast
  • Taking effective action
  • Credibility and integrity (towards the management and the own team)
  • Inspiring and giving confidence
  • Team performance

I can only recommend you to draw up your own shortlist with criteria. If you map the talents within the company this way, you will already be moving in the right direction. You should do this from the beginning, at the recruitment stage. Also screen your talents during their career: learning by doing! Gradually, your own model for hipos will start to take shape. You can use it in order to spot talent at an early stage, to train it and to coach it. This way, you will definitely create your future leaders yourself!

I could continue talking for hours about this topic; it’s one of my favorites. That is why I will be pleased to discuss it again in my next column...

Have a nice weekend,


By Herman van Herterijck

"my ambition is to put the importance of pragmatic and continuous self-coaching on the agenda of current business leaders"

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