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Everyone's a "Hi-Po": Democratize Development!

At Learn Interactive a key part of our mission is what we call the "Democratization of Development."

We mean by this that our "virtual-first" programs (that are built from the ground-up to be delivered virtually) are highly scaleable and can be made available to everyone who can benefit from them. Put another way: development doesn't need to be—and should not be—the preserve of "High Potentials" only.

"Hi-Po" programs risk missing out on developing the broadest range of leadership talent

This is not politics: it's practical. Programs that select participants based on results generated by commonly-used assessment tools can—and often do—miss out on an incredible and diverse array of talent.

Early in an individual's career it's very— very—hard to identify if someone has genuine potential. It's therefore best to assume that everybody does!

The central issue here is that many assessment instruments used by corporations are pre-disposed towards individuals who already demonstrate the leadership behaviors valued by the organization. In our view, this is suboptimal—and misses an opportunity to find and support all the great talent in your organization. It's a bit like selecting participants for a "French for Beginners" program on the basis of their ability to...answer questions in French!

Underlying this issue is a fundamental reality of manager development: skills and capability, at any level, are a function two key factors:

  1. Professional and personal experiences

  2. Guidance and encouragement from mentors and peers

In many cases individuals who are identified as "High Potential" early in their career have already accumulated a valuable set of experiences and mentor / peer relationships. This can have its roots in any number of external factors: social or academic connections, geographical origins etc.

It's also important to mention that if someone lacks these attributes early in their career it can be due to more pernicious factors such as conscious or unconscious bias and/or socio-economic or cultural disadvantage.

This raises a critical question: How can we ensure that high quality development opportunities are offered to individuals who—through no fault of their own—have not experienced early-career mentoring and have not yet had the professional experiences that draw out and develop their abilities?

Ensuring that such individuals have access to development is unquestionably "the right thing to do." But it is also in any organization's economic self-interest. Employers risk missing out on the value that diversity of background and experiences adds to the bottom line: this is the "diversity dividend" identified by McKinsey and others.

In the competition for talent in the knowledge economy, "employee experience" is critical: individuals will choose to work for the company that provides them with the support they need to go as far as their talents, and motivation, can take them.

Over the longer term, Hi-Po programs also risk creating unbridgeable gulfs between populations. When you invest heavily (and differentially) in "Hi-Po's" early on in their career journey you're accelerating their progression away from their peers. There's nothing wrong with this in principle—it's the purpose of the program after all.

But a gap is now created between these individuals and those outside the Hi-Po population that will become harder and harder to bridge as time passes. By the next key career transition point—generally from Senior Manager to Director —the gap has become a chasm that cannot now be crossed.

This risks the on-going exclusion of incredibly talented individuals from your leadership pipeline. In some—perhaps many—cases this is nothing short of a tragic waste of talent.

The solution is to offer development to everyone—and virtual programs make this possible and affordable.

Contact us to discuss how we can apply the principles of "development for all" to your organization.


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