Most people that work in mid to large size companies know that "HiPo" is short for "high potential," and that it describes a type of employee. 

"HiPo" employees are often thought of as the future leaders within organizations, and it is often these people that get extra opportunities for development to help them become effective leaders. Millennials in particular have questions about an organization’s policies and practices regarding getting promoted.  

Whether you are an employee in a company that wants to get on to that HiPo list or an executive leader considering your current talent situation, you are going to want a definition for what a HiPo is and good understanding of how they are identified. Many companies think of the top 3-5% of their talent as high potential. In a Harvard Business Review article entitled "Are You A High Potential?" the authors define a HiPo as:

"High potentials consistently and significantly outperform their peer groups in a variety of settings and circumstances. While achieving these superior levels of performance, they exhibit behaviors that reflect their companies’ culture and values in an exemplary manner. Moreover, they show a strong capacity to grow and succeed throughout their careers within an organization—more quickly and effectively than their peer groups do."

They go on to say that HiPos typically:

  • Deliver strong results - credibly
  • Master new types of expertise
  • Recognize that behavior counts

Some feel that HiPos are hardwired with certain specific X factors like:

  • Possessing a drive to excel
  • A desire to seek new ideas
  • The cognitive ability to learn and absorb those ideas
  • And the ability to convert those ideas into useful productive action for their customers and the company
  • An enterprising spirit (explorers)
  • A well-tuned radar that keeps them from stepping out of bounds

To continue moving up the chain will move them into leadership. Can they fall off the HiPo list?  Yes, that is the downside. Being on the list can be a lot of pressure to perform. An inability to transition to a new role, or continue performing at a high level over time are examples of things that get the HiPo label removed.

In this Bersin by Deloitte article, not only do they provide their own definition of HiPo employees, but also add in how companies identify and assess high potential talent.