ATD Blog

Is Focusing on High Potentials a Blessing or a Blunder?

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

High potential employees, also referred to as HIPOs, are workers that show ambition, dedication, determination, and a number of qualities that suggest they will succeed in their field. Many companies see this potential, and invest in them through training and development programs designed specifically for them. Is this a blessing or a blunder? Do HIPOs deserve this special focus?

Meanwhile, other organizations and companies go a different route. They believe that every employee has the potential to be a HIPO—if they receive proper education and care. Therefore, they treat all employees equitably and invest in all of them. There are certainly benefits to training all of your staff equally. It destroys the notion of favoritism, and fosters a drive in employees. You never know how training will affect someone or when it will spark someone to take that extra step and they become a HIPO. What’s more, training the totality of your staff with a similar level training may increase your odds of maintaining a pool of employees that can deliver. But it is probably a waste to put them through training that they aren’t ready—nor passionate enough to handle.

It all boils down to one simple factor: longevity. Once given special training, some experts estimate that as high as 55 percent of HIPOs leave the company in search of better prospects within five years. This is because they are in high demand, and superior offers are being made daily in the competitive employment market. Conversely, the argument could be made that employees, despite special training, leave all of the time. This is true. But that leaves us with the unanswered debate: to train or not to train.

Whether you are providing special training to HIPOs or training the entirety of your staff, you run the risk of people leaving. Once you train someone, they are better equipped for the employment market; thus, presenting them with more opportunities. On the other hand, if you don’t train them and they decide to stay longer, your workforce isn’t working at peak capacity. You could be throwing away potential revenue or increasing expenses.


In my personal opinion, it is far better to train your workforce and lose a few employees than to keep a mediocre staff. As for the HIPOs, I feel that they do deserve special training. By illustrating ambition and hard work, they are proving they care for their job. Management should do likewise, by treating those employees with special attention through enhanced job training.


In a perfect world, everyone could be a HIPO. However, some people just display more care, effort, and talent and as a result, should be nurtured. Certain studies show that employees often times feel that their talents and efforts go unrecognized. In short, if you train HIPOs, it’s likely that a good bit of them will leave. But if you don’t train HIPO’s, then they won’t be inclined to stick around either. Arguably, more would leave if you don’t train them. The deciding factor in this situation is the work they will do while they are with you. Nobody stays forever. What is important is their effectiveness while they are. They will be far more effective and efficient after training, leading to the wisest course of action: to provide special training for HIPOs.

And in then end, let performance determine if someone stays or goes, or if they are promoted. But always assume people can learn and have more to offer.

About the Author

Brad Federman is the chief operating officer of F&H Solutions Group, which merged in 2013, with Federman’s performance improvement company, Performancepoint, LLC. He also is an author, speaker, and consultant with more than 22 years of corporate experience in various aspects of human resources, including performance management, employee engagement, employee compensation, executive recruiting, change management, and instructional design. His background also includes sales, marketing, product development, and operations. 

Previously, Federman was the executive vice president of Novations Group and has held leadership positions with Accenture and Humana Inc. He is a frequently requested featured speaker at conferences and business meetings worldwide. He is the author of Employee Engagement: A Roadmap for Creating Profits, Optimizing Performance, and Increasing Loyalty and a contributing author to 101 Ways to Enhance Your Career. He also has been interviewed for articles in numerous publications such as Fortune Small Business, Los Angeles Times and HR Magazine

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