11 Ways to Identify High Potential Employees (HIPOs)

What strategies can managers utilize in order to identify HIPOSs (high potential employees) in the company? 

To help you identify high potential employees in your company, we asked business professionals and leaders for their best insights. From using interactive employee peer reviews to looking for consistency in communication, there are several ways to identify high potential employees.

Here is what 11 thought-leaders had to say:

  • Use Interactive Employee Peer Review
  • Observe Their Ability to Pivot and Work as “intrapreneurs”
  • Watch For Those Who Volunteer on Cross-functional Teams
  • Define Set Goals and Monitor Progress 
  • Have Regular Brainstorming Sessions
  • Allow Equal Opportunities to Take the Lead
  • Look For Those Who Are Not Afraid to Make Mistakes
  • Provide Stretch Goal Opportunities
  • Pay Attention to Employee Engagement
  • Identify the Employees Who Are Curious and Eager to Learn
  • Look for Consistency in Communication


Use Interactive Employee Peer Review

Peer Reviews can oftentimes offer insight into an employee that a manager might not see or experience off the bat. It’s not just a time for employees to be critical of each other, or to offer blanket effusive praise. It’s not just about rating them on a scale. Companies often think that’s the long and short of peer reviews, but they need to see them for what they are: An opportunity for team-building and a true opportunity to create an enjoyable work environment. Companies should encourage employees to share their thoughts about their colleagues, and also to receive their colleagues’ thoughts with an open mind. It creates an opportunity for dialog between peers and their managers and can shine a light on HIPOS within your company.

Linda Scorzo, Hiring Indicators


Observe Their Ability to Pivot and Work as “intrapreneurs”

High-potential employees typically stand out right away, even when in entry-level positions. They work independently, easily take on new tasks, and pivot when necessary. I like to think of them as “intrapreneurs,” which means they are basically an entrepreneur who, luckily enough, works for your company, instead of having their own.

Greg Gillman, MuteSix


Watch For Those Who Volunteer on Cross-Functional Teams

Whenever a new project is about to kick off, we often ask leaders who should be on a cross-functional team. Usually, a few names are shared, however, if there’s a desire to gain input from new voices, we ask for volunteers.  By putting out the call, a HIPO in the wings might appear, someone who has been waiting for their moment. 

I tend to reward people who take the initiative by volunteering for challenging projects or cross-functional programs.

David Ciccarelli, Voices


Define Set Goal and Monitor Progress

As management, you want to ensure that the roles you oversee have a defined set of tasks and a way of measuring the success and completion of those duties. This is a great way for managers and supervisors to get a sense of who is over-performing on their team. The beginning of a new team member’s time at a company is obviously going to include some training and acclimating, but in that period where they start transitioning from a trainee to an independent member of the team is when you want to pay special attention. If you’ve got a member who acclimates quickly, completes their tasks to a consistent and high-quality degree, and still is looking for more, then you may have a future star on your hands.

Tom Mumford, Undergrads


Have Regular Brainstorming Sessions

Identifying high-potential employees is hard if they don’t have the opportunity to stand out.  To give them more opportunities to shine, consider hosting regular (we like monthly) sessions where you talk about company ideas, brainstorm strategies, or even offer feedback on current projects.  Getting employee feedback and giving them the chance to be creative is always valuable and it should give you greater insight into who might become a high-performing employee.

Sylvia Kang, Mira


Allow Equal Opportunities to Take the Lead

As we go through the difficulties of retaining employees amidst the pandemic,  we realize the greater value of identifying high-potential employees to pursue consistent business growth despite the challenges.

To figure out which employees have strong potential in handling management roles, we give them equal opportunities to take the lead. This way, we can know who has the genuine desire to take the initiative and lead the team. High potential employees can confidently take a task and run with it with less guidance along the way.

In times of handling tough and deadline-driven projects, we look carefully to discover who is flexible in fast-paced environments and able to adapt to sudden changes. This way, we can also see who among the employees are fully committed to achieving the business’ goals and eager to seek a deeper understanding of the tasks.

Suki Bajaj, Enable Business


Look For Those Who Are Not Afraid to Make Mistakes

High-performing employees have many attributes, however, one metric of the talent identification process to find them early is to look for those who are bold and confident in their decision-making abilities. Employees who are not afraid to interject their ideas, to make suggestions to guide teams, and especially to provide opinions to management are vital.

This quality is especially valuable if it continues, even after a misstep. Those who remain confident in their abilities, and are not afraid to be wrong, are generally the types of individuals who will have the bold ideas in the future and can create the biggest impact within your business.

Cody Candee, Bounce


Provide Stretch Goal Opportunities

One thing managers can do to identify high potential employees (HIPOs) is to provide opportunities for stretch goals or special projects. These employees look for ways to go above and beyond and grow inside and outside of their roles. A stretch goal can be a special project that will make a big impact on the company or a learning opportunity to cross collaborate in another department. Don’t put too many boundaries on the goal as this allows the employee to shine within their unique talents. I have found HIPOSs are excited to stand above the rest and typically look for these opportunities. Lastly, be an active part in this process, help them define the goal or project, check-in periodically, and provide positive encouragement as well as feedback to improve.

Jenn Christie, Markitors


Pay Attention to Employee Engagement

Observe how engaged your employees are. Even if your company operates remotely, you can still notice how your employees engage on Slack, whether they’re asking questions, offering supportive emoji reactions to other peoples’ posts, or providing any tips or strategies they’ve learned to the rest of the team. At the end of the day, employees who show enthusiasm for working at the company are likely to perform well because they genuinely want to. This is a helpful method for identifying high potential employees.

Matt Woods, SOLD.com


Identify the Employees Who Are Curious and Eager to Learn

The employees with the most potential are the ones who are curious and eager to learn new skills. These are the individuals who can grow with your company because they’re more likely to strive for continuous improvement, and also tend to be more self-aware about their own weaknesses and more open to learning from feedback and constructive criticism.

These HIPOS will make themselves known if you’re paying attention. They’re the ones who ask thoughtful questions during meetings, and take advantage of optional continuing education. If they’re assigned a task they don’t know how to do, they won’t say it’s above their pay grade—they’ll ask for the training they need and see it as a chance to learn a new skill. Pay attention to how employees respond to mistakes, too. The ones with the most potential will own up to their mistakes and take accountability for their role in team failures, then look for ways they can turn it into a lesson and improve to avoid that problem in the future.

Jon Hill, The Energists


Look for Consistency in Communication

Having communication skills tends to be overly defined, and how people interact with fellow employees may be different than the style they use to talk with management or outside entities. In order to assess whether one of your team members is a high potential employee, you must use a consistent metric in defining an engaged employee.

An employee who displays equal comfort across the work spectrum is the best measurement. A high potential employee communicates with not only fellow employees and management in the same manner but also outside entities. Look for signs such as a large network of accounts or acquaintances in synergistic businesses. The employee that easily acquires these relationships is most likely a future star.

Adelle Archer, Eterneva


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