What differentiates between success and mediocrity in organisations? Studies show that the high performing leaders are the ones most relied upon to drive the business performance in the years to come. Whether it is the delivery of strategic projects, cost stripping, or managing customer relationships, high performing leaders are the difference between success and mediocrity. High performing employees have a disproportionately higher impact on results. This means that identifying and developing future high performers is a critical priority for any organisation. CIOs have a responsibility to identify and nurture these star performers in IT organisations.
While it is easier to identify current high performers, identifying high potential future leaders is not so easy. Further, once identified, developing and retaining potential leaders is another challenge. This article aims to help CIOs develop pragmatic strategies to identify and develop future IT leaders.
Identifying future leaders
Future leaders will most probably emerge from today’s high performing employees. Current performance is seen as a predictor of future performance. Indeed 93% of the stars are high performers. Some believe the potential depends on innate ability and the right experience. Leadership skills and ambition to succeed are also seen as indicators of potential. CIO Executive Board conducted a major study in 2006, defining a high potential employee as someone who has a 75% chance of being a top quartile performer at the next level (for example, junior to middle management or middle to senior management). Only about 8% of the employees have a meaningful chance of being a top performer.
The study found that three indicators of high potential are strong ability, engagement and aspiration to succeed.
- Ability is a combination of innate and learned skills. These include both technical and interpersonal skills as well as the ability to learn new skills and behaviours. Studies have repeatedly shown that the ability to learn from experience is what differentiates successful from unsuccessful executives.
- Aspiration indicates to what extent the employee wants to advance and influence, seeks recognition and financial rewards and enjoys the job.
- Engagement shows the commitment to the organisation, willingness to go the extra mile and intent to stay with the organisation.
Employees who don’t have a good balance of these three attributes tend to fall short. “Unengaged stars” have the ability and aspiration but are not committed to the company (high flight risk). “Dreamers” have aspiration and engagement but lack the ability to succeed at the next level. While “misaligned stars” have the ability and engagement but no aspiration to succeed and rise.
Understanding the profile of current high performing leaders, who are at a higher level in the organisation, on these three dimensions provides a good benchmark profile. Assess how employees on the level below score on these attributes, using feedback from managers, peers and employees. Compare to the benchmark and then make a judgement on how likely these are to be top performers at the next level.
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