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Are You a High-Potential Employee?

Many companies purposely identify high-performing employees who also show a propensity for leadership. To retain these “HIPOs,” companies devote extra resources to develop them. If you think you may be a HIPO, here are some tips to analyze your status, starting with a definition of this high-value breed.

Even though HIPOs usually emerge from the pool of highest-performing employees at a company, not all high-performers are HIPOs, according to research by the executive team advisory service CEB. Just one in six high-performers has HIPO traits, which go well beyond hitting metrics, according to CEB.

A Forbes article concludes, “In short, performance is what you do, and potential is what you could do.”

High-potential employees generally stand out among their high-performing peers. HIPOs use their talent and strong motivation not only to level up personally, but they also aspire to take their organization with them to the next plateau.

Common Traits of HIPOs

In addition to characteristics they share with high-performers, such as meeting goals and objectives, HIPOs further differentiate themselves by exhibiting impressive personal traits:

  • Desire to lead
  • Leadership and supervisory skills
  • Devotion to the company
  • Action orientation
  • Autonomy
  • Drive to advocate for new opportunities
  • Spirit of entrepreneurism
  • Decision-making skills
  • Ability to thrive under fast-paced conditions
  • Flexibility

What Can You Do to Attain and Maintain HIPO Status?

If you have these characteristics, or at least most of them, you have a shot at HIPO status. But to stand out, you may need to balance your high-performing specialty skill — accounting, engineering or marketing, for instance — with your leadership abilities and ambitions. This may seem counterintuitive, but consider that top corporate leaders must have a range of skills, understanding and credibility.

You may also need to gain or strengthen skills or add a credential. A great way to do both simultaneously is to earn a fully online broad-based MBA degree designed for working professionals.

How Do You Know if You’re Considered a HIPO?

Not all companies keep an actual list of HIPOs. And even if a company has a list, designated employees may not be told they have HIPO status.

If you do not know whether you are a HIPO, you may be able to determine your status. Consider these indicators from Fast Company.

  • Variety and Quality of Assigned Projects
    • Are you getting assigned to collaborate on or lead high-profile projects across a wide range of opportunities with frequent moves? It could indicate you are in demand as a problem-solver.
    • Being slammed with “busy work” that involves heads-down isolation could be an adverse signal.
  • Demand for Your Input from Senior Staff
    • If senior leaders frequently request your insight on strategic issues, word may be spreading that your opinions have value.
  • Investment in Training Beyond Basics and Compliance
    • If you are in the company’s management trainee or development program, you can assume you fit the HIPO profile.
    • Being assigned a mentor or coach, which represents a valuable investment in you, is another good sign.
    • Consider the content of your training. Training that covers basic skills, fulfills a compliance requirement or could have a remedial purpose would not necessarily mean you are HIPO listed.
    • Consider who else is being trained on the same topic. If more-senior employees are among trainees, it could be a good sign.
  • Feedback that Includes Specifics on How to Improve
    • Feedback from senior managers is more valuable than from others.
    • If the feedback includes hints about how to improve your work, it may indicate the commenter sees potential for your development.

As you analyze whether these actions and content match your job experience, you may be able to determine whether you are among the HIPOs.

Learn more about St. Thomas University’s online MBA program.


Fast Company: 4 Signs Your Company Views You As a High Potential Employee

Inc.: High Performance Is Not the Same As High Potential

Forbes: Four Things You Probably Didn’t Know About High Potential Employees The Definition of a High-Potential Employee

People Matters: HIPOs – Specialists or Generalists?

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