I sat down, surrounded by graphs and pie charts, to write my thoughts on the current state of play in what would be a fairly mundane subject for most – High Potential Talent Management Practices in India. Struggling for several minutes to find an opening on what was the moot point I wanted to make, respite came in the form of my 10-year-old walking in, humming these lines from the Beatles classic that turned 50 this year.
“Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter, Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here Here comes the sun (doo doo doo)
Here comes the sun, and I say… It’s all right” She had given me my opening.
Triggered by the dearth of Indian data, and armed with staggering global insights that suggest high potentials contribute to various metrics by up to 90% more than others, BasilTree Consulting launched the study to understand the prevalence, evolution, and sustainability of high potential programs in Corporate India. The responses of 124 seasoned HR professionals across industries and from both Indian and international companies in India have made us excited about what the future holds. No doubt a lot is yet to be achieved but there is a clear road ahead, and it most certainly appears to be leading in the right direction – one where identifying, nurturing, and engaging ‘right talent’, has a significantly positive impact on pretty much every business metric.
Here are the top-five themes emerging from the study, along with our take on what next for Corporate India.
1. It’s not arbitrary anymore – there is most certainly method in the madness.
A good 57% of the respondents say they have a formal high potential talent management process in place. Compared to the global average of 67%, and given the relatively lower lifespans of many Indian corporations in the study, this is commendable. Further good news is that another 24% create need-based ‘opportunistic’ programs.
Once companies start to see the returns and become more and more aware of how high potentials have a greater impact on their business results, having a dedicated program for high potential management and someone dedicated to lead it, will become akin to having an Internal Audit function within Finance – a given and almost a matter of compliance.
2. Managers are within striking distance – hit or miss depends on shooting skills.
As many as 84% of respondents in organizations that have a formal program, confirm that line managers play the most significant role in the identification of talent. Trouble starts to brew when nearly 1 in 5 make it their only criteria for identifying potential, not validated by any other method.
In our experience, one of the biggest hindrances to successful high potential programs is the equating of performance with potential in the early stages. We are all for line managers taking charge of potential identification but companies need to make the right investments in equipping managers to do this with trained objectivity and science and not just leave it to their extremely important but often subjective judgment and experience.
3. Shhh… you’re not supposed to know it.
Consider this. A global study concluded that 77% of high potentials consider being formally identified as a high potential to be important. But in India, only half of the companies who have formal high potential programs actually tell people about their status. Worse, a third of them let people ‘figure it out’!
It took me back to the times I was growing up in a conservative household. Coming ‘first in class’ got one a peck on the cheek and if it were the finals, perhaps a bar of chocolate! What’s with this Indian system of ‘kids-get- spoilt-if-you-celebrate-success’, or other kids feel bad if you fuss over one too much! By not telling people exactly where they stand and what it will translate into for them, we create life-long mistrust in assessment mechanisms. The ones selected don’t trust it because they don’t know if it even matters, and the ones not selected feel that others gamed the system. A rapid change in this statistic is needed, to create impactful and sustainable high potential programs.
4. Diamonds don’t start out polished and shining.
Much like the effort needed with diamonds in finding, polishing, and securing them, logic would confirm that if high potentials drive higher performance than others, you would spend a disproportionate sum of money in identifying, nurturing, and holding on to them. But when it comes to the amorphous people domain, not everything is driven by logic. Nearly two-thirds of companies make little or no differentiation while spending on developing and engaging High Potential talent, compared to others.
The simple principles that apply to business – ‘invest’ in what is your growth market, ‘nurture’ customers that add most to your metrics, and ‘maintain’ what is your run-rate business – need to apply to high potential talent management. The faster companies make this change, the more impactful their programs will be.
5. It’s not about the money, honey.
As per our study, HR professionals say monetary rewards motivate high potentials the least. So what does? The two F words do – Freedom and Flexibility. That certainly adds up because most high potentials know that they are so, whether told or not. Worse, 55% of high potentials with low engagement are prone to leaving your company. So by micromanaging and not investing time in mentoring, line managers couldn’t possibly do more damage.
There is a huge upside here. Much like the present Indian economy, high potentials need systemic long-term changes in organizational structures and processes to drive their learning and growth, rather than more money, which is like a fiscal stimulus – great in the short term, but fundamentally counterproductive in the long run. Question is, how quickly all of us accountable for these programs will get it and do something about it.
All in all, the Sun is indeed shining on the High Potential Talent Management Practices in India, and it is upon us now to harness this energy and take it to the next level. For me, I am grateful to my ‘little darling’ for showing me the light.
- Campbell, M, & Smith R. (2014) CCL White Paper, 2014 – “High Potential Talent: A View From Inside the Leadership “
- DDI, 2018, Turning Potential Into Profit: An Action Guide to Unleashing Leadership Potential for Business Results
- CEB, 2017, Most HiPo Programs Do Not Yield Visible Results