Memoirs from a Non-High Potential Employee

Employee Succession Plan Impacts Engagement

As someone who has participated in succession planning for my direct reports and employee populations I was responsible for, I never had the opportunity to hear from my senior leaders their succession plan or planning for me.  You’d think that working inside an organization as an employee, you may be privy to the discussion, however, I’ve found that this discussion is often reserved solely for those employees they designate as high potential or just senior leaders themselves.  And so I give you my story and my memoirs from a non-high potential employee.

Early into my professional career, I received an email from my corporate HR team, inviting me to participate in interviews and development for a high potential human resources position.  I was beyond excited sharing the news with my peers, friends, and my family.  I spent hours re-working my resume, prepping for possible interview questions, and even purchased a new khaki suit with red camisole.  I was a woman on a mission, an overly engaged employee who was eager to prove her worth, but I was mistaken.  That high potential invitation was not meant for me.

My store manager called me into his office to deliver the bad news.  The email sent to me was in error, and so I was uninvited.  I was mortified, defeated, and embarrassed, and in that moment I went from an engaged to a disengaged employee.  Disengaged HR is the worst.  The Regional HR Director called me trying to calm the waters, justify her actions, and defend her point of view.  The damage was done.  It was at that moment and for the first time in my nearly 2 years at that organization that I learned she had a different career path for me.

But What About the Non-High Potential Employee?

This week I heard Jim Quigley, the outgoing CEO for Deloitte talk about Leadership and how senior leaders consider leadership and the development of talent a key strategy in retaining your workforce as well as growing and retaining the current and future employee population.  He talked candidly about how CEO’s at top organizations are using purposeful leadership to build and grow talent starting with senior leaders and high potentials with no mention of the non hi-po employee.

“Passion,” Quigley  says “Plays a role in engagement, happiness, development, and productivity of an employee.”  And yet, 50% of employees are not happy at work while a growing number of independent consultants, contractors, and entrepreneurs like me are throwing caution to the wind and pursuing their passion and dictating their own career path and not the direction or point of view of another especially that Regional HR Director.  My point of view is that senior leaders especially CEO’s are more disconnected from the average employee than ever before, and their management team is filled with politicians not change makers who look past individuals, focus on overarching leadership theories maybe like I was who are different or stand out.

Leadership Theories & Embracing the Practical Genius

Gina Rodan, the author of Practical Genius calls these younger twenty-something employees who are often round pegs in square organizations, “Fat Brains.”  This leadership theory describes the fat head as creative, risk takers, and offer an unconventional point of view that is often times labeled as trouble, restless, or contrary.  But these fat brains are creative, unique, and they get the job done, but only on their terms.  Which leads me to my problem with defining high-potentials because these individuals are in my experience risk-averse.

Are you meeting with your non-high potential employees?  How are you talking about them with their career pathing, professional goals and aspirations within their organization?  Because solely focusing your efforts on a small group of corporate employees deemed high potential seems a little short sited in any succession plan and leadership strategy.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell (@jmillermerrell) is a workplace change agent, author and consultant focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer and is a global speaker. She’s the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource and host of the Workology Podcast.

Reader Interactions

Comments

    • Thanks, Dani. This one was hard to write because I’ve always prided myself on being super competitive and better than average. No one likes to be told they are not good enough, but average employees are important for the success of a business non-the-less.

      It’s time we start focusing as much on the average employee as we do the high potentials.

      JMM

  1. Yikes! What a devastating experience you had. People often live up or down to expectations of them. If you had gone through that high-po interview process you may have ended up as a high-po in that company. As it is, you’ve had to get past a setback. I believe employers should treat all employees like high-pos; the results would be pleasantly surprising.

    • I concur with Lee……Actually, I’ll take it a step further. Not only do people live up or down to expectations….but people also SEE the attributes that they expect – i.e. confirmation bias, so it ends up a double whammy…..

  2. Thanks for sharing a great blog, Jessica. I am one of those HR/OD types who has played a part in building succession programs for both private and public sector organizations. We’ve been the most successful with our high potential efforts when we create a strong culture of development open to all and tailor our succession efforts to the needs of “fat brains” and other populations too. It’s easier said than done when most leadership teams are most interested in the top 1% but have made progress in being inclusive. Again, thanks for sharing your experience and perspective.

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  1. […] Jessica Miller-Merrell, a human resource specialist and social media expert, tells us whats it’s like to not be chosen as a high potential and how its affected her engagement in the workplace in her recent blog: ‘Memoirs from a Non-High Potential Employee’ […]

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