How to Find and Grow HIPOs

The Institute for the Future (IFTF) recently identified key skills they see as essential for success in the future workplace.  These skills include…

  • identify meaning beyond what is expressed,
  • assess information for importance,
  • translate data into abstract concepts and use data-based reasoning,
  • understand concepts across multiple disciplines,
  • identify actions beyond rote or rules, and
  • participate as a member of a virtual team.

The Teleos Development Model© identifies five different “perspectives” or development levels.  The “systems” or strategic perspective is critical, because that perspective enables the development of these (and other) powerful skills that improve performance and enhance leadership.  The challenge comes with trying to make the shift into this perspective – by far the most difficult shift in any person’s development process.

So, what makes the shift so difficult?  The challenge comes from being able to let go of  views handed to you by others and to develop an independent viewpoint.  Take the skill of identifying actions beyond rote or rule.  In the early stages of development, people make decisions based on what Robert Kegan calls “received wisdom.”  At the first perspective, this received wisdom concerns the methods of your particular technical area (the rote).  At the second perspective, the received wisdom concerns the guidelines created by your authority figures (the rules).  Unless a person can let go of this received wisdom and develop his/her own viewpoint, it’s will remain impossible to act beyond rote or rule.

So what’s an organization to do?  How can an organization identify HIPOs earlier and then speed the development of these people.

First, let’s look at how you can identify these people earlier in their careers.  Following are some key indicators of future development potential.

  1. Ask questions.  In a world that values “smart,” people often try to hide their ignorance, especially from the boss.  A willingness to ask relevant questions and then apply that information can reflect both curiosity and personal confidence.
  2. Learn about other functions.  It’s almost impossible to understand concepts across disciplines if you don’t explore those disciplines.  It’s not about mastering skills, it’s about understanding viewpoint and role and expected contribution.
  3. Look for “non-obvious” causes to problems.  People who spend their lives trapped by “rules and rote” often start and end with obvious causes.  To develop broader perspective, a person must be willing to look beyond the obvious.
  4. Resolve a conflict collaboratively.  People are typically conditioned to respond to conflict with fight or flight.  Unfortunately, neither of these methods creates a durable resolution to the conflict.  A powerful marker of future skill is the willingness to engage conflict with dialogue and to attempt to find and implement a common resolution.
  5. Help a colleague succeed.  It’s not uncommon or wrong for a person to be “self-focused” early in his/her career.  At that stage, people are trying to build skills, gain experience, and develop a track record – which makes a willingness to help others even more telling.

Next, let’s look at how you can speed the development of strategic perspective and skills.  Following are some useful activities to speed the development of HIPOs.

  • Answer questions with questions.  Sometimes you need to answer a question with information, but a question can provide a great opportunity to build perspective.  If someone asks – how would you solve this problem? – ask the questioner for his/her approach, before you offer your ideas.
  • Utilize cross-functional assignments.  Cross-functional teams can be great for building perspective, especially early in a person’s career.  A well-managed team can enable the person to see one issue from different functional perspectives, to see what people question and why, to discover non-obvious causes, and even to learn about behaviors that disrupt team effectiveness.
  • Analyze a complex problem.  Another way to build perspective is to ask the person to analyze a complex problem.  Complex problems cannot be solved with simple questions or methods.  They typically require a person to test assumptions, look from multiple viewpoints, and reconcile conflicting information.
  • Use “action-learning development methods.  Typical training can build knowledge and skills, but it does virtually nothing to develop a person’s perspective.  Action-learning methods link training and coaching directly to project performance.  This approach can help a person to ask different questions, considering different information and views, and to learn from choices – all of which are great perspective builders.
  • Train basic methods to others.  See one, do one, teach one is a time-honored approach to developing skills.  Training a person to perform a new skill requires more than just methodological knowledge and skill.  It requires the trainer to work from the learner’s viewpoint – to explain something new, answer unexpected questions, and to develop the patience required to train effectively.

Hopefully, these ideas will give you more insight into how to find and grow the skills needed for success in the future.