Chances are that some of the people who were considered high potentials in your organization before the pandemic are not considered high potentials now. They probably didn’t change. Circumstances did. And, assuming they still have a job, someone will have to tell them their status has changed. But only if they knew they were considered high potentials.
That is one of the four reasons I recommend not telling someone they are considered a high potential. People often are removed from the high potential pool for reasons that are beyond their control. It doesn’t have to be a pandemic that does it.
Maybe the business model changed or the company reorganized or was acquired. Or maybe the economy changed. Maybe some executive didn’t like the way the individual answered questions during a presentation and the impression stuck, as it often does. There are lots of possible reasons.
In most circumstances, it’s difficult to tell someone they’re out. But it’s particularly difficult when there’s nothing the person can do about it.
Admittedly it can be a great feeling to tell someone they’ve been identified as a high potential. Prestige. Development opportunities. Future leader of the company.
But being a high potential mainly means you’re part of a special selection process. Some make it one level, maybe two. Most don’t make it farther.
My recommendation: keep the information to yourself. Here are three additional reasons.
People Disqualify Themselves Unnecessarily
If they know they’ve been identified as high potentials, some people become more cautious than they should be and make poor decisions. Others act as if they’re already the heir apparent. That also can lead to poor decisions and it can negatively impact relationships with co-workers. Either behavior can kill someone’s chances. Some would argue it’s good to find this out early; others would argue that experience over time and increased maturity would have taken care of the issue.
Up or out
You could lose a terrific employee.
When an individual knows that he or she is a high potential, there’s a good chance lots of other people know too. Some companies make the information public. If the individual is no longer a high potential and his or her peers and others know, it can be difficult and embarrassing for the ex-high potential.
In some cases, moving to another company really is the best alternative. And sometimes that can be a good thing if the fit is better. But no-one knows that in advance.
The argument goes that if you give people special assignments that look like they’re for “high potentials” and have them attend specific training programs that look they’re for “high potentials,” you have to tell those people they’re high potentials if they are. You don’t. Each of those can be part of the normal development process.
Similarly, some argue that if you want to retain a high potential, you need to let them know so they don’t leave.
Actually, the first thing you need to do is find out the individual’s career goals and whether he or she is interested in moving into management – the career path for high potentials. If they are, you can explain the pitfalls of being considered a high potential.
For those employees who are interested, you can work with that person to put together a development plan that helps them prepare for a management role. Remember, many managers never were “high potentials.” Most of them do fine anyway.
And if the individual is one of those rare people who actually is a high potential and he or she continues to progress, the high potential label will be irrelevant by the time they make it to the lower levels of senior management.