5 Ways to Make Sure You Don’t Fall off the Fast-track

Most organizations have some kind of formal or informal succession planning process to identify their high potential (HIPO), or “fast track” talent. Some will come right out and tell you you’re part of a high potential pool, and some let you know in a more indirect way.

Either way, what they don’t always tell you is that these lists are fluid. Each year, people are added and dropped. Most managers are happy to let you know you’re on the list, but avoid having to have the tough conversation to tell you you’ve been dropped. However, there are usually telltale clues that you’ve fallen off the fast track.

It’s been my experience that when it comes to high potential identification, second chances are rare. So, IF you have aspirations to rise to the next level in your organization (and I realize not everyone does) , and you’ve figured out you’re part of your organization’s HIPO pool, you’ll want to do what it takes to stay on that list and not shoot yourself in the foot.

How do you make sure you remain seen as a high potential once you’ve been tagged? Here’s 5 ways:

1. Maintain your performance at a high level.
Although this one seems obvious, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Organizations will often inadvertently do everything they can to sabotage their high potentials . Like it or not, development assignments are not an excuse to under perform. As a high potential, you’re expected to have a high degree of “learning agility” and will be expected quickly climb their learning curves and nail each new assignment. I’ve seen it happen over and over – last year’s rising star, faced with a challenging assignment (often with little or no support), can turn into today’s disappointment one year later. While you don’t want to get risk-adverse and turn down challenging opportunities, it’s a good idea to try to choose wisely and try to negotiate conditions that will improve your chances of success.

2. Take advantage of the development support offered to you.
High potentials are often offered developmental resources that organizations just can’t afford to offer to every employee. These include access to mentors, executive coaches, executive development programs, special projects, international assignments, and cross-functional lateral moves. You may find it hard to believe, but I can’t tell you how many HIPOs I’ve worked with that turn down these opportunities, or view them as a distraction and accept kicking and screaming. It’s understandable- they are probably too busy maintaining their performance at a high level (see #1), and they often don’t understand the how these opportunities can help them perform better in their current role. The fact is, they may not, but they are designed to get you ready for the next level, not your current job, and if you take advantage of them, they WILL. And by turning them down, you’ll come across as not interested in advancement or not committed.

3. Don’t get too full of yourself.
Again, I’ve seen this happen all too often. Sparky is told by his manager he’s next in line for her position and needs to start acting like a leader. Sparky starts walking around like he’s second-in-charge, gets arrogant, and his peers and other managers start to notice. “Hey, who anointed Sparky as our new manager”?

Yes, it’s important to perform at a level above your current level, and you’ll be expected to be learning and practicing new leadership behaviors. However, if you start acting like a little prince or princess, you’ll soon be labeled as someone that doesn’t understand what it takes to be a leader. Leaders are humble, authentic, trusted, and inspire and lift those around them. When it’s time for a possible promotion, your peers should be ready to vote for you, not take a step back and let you hit the pavement during the team trust fall exercise.

4. Make sure you’re getting feedback.
When it comes to high potential development, “no news” is NOT good news. Keep an open line of communication between you and your manager, coach, mentor, employees, and peers. One way to do this is with periodic 360 assessment feedback.

Getting isolated and cut off from feedback often happens during development assignments, lateral moves, and expat assignments, so if you’re in one of these situations, it’s even more important to maintain close contact with your support network.

5. “Market” yourself.
Arrrgh, the idea of “marketing” yourself sounds slimy, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t that be the same as getting too full of yourself?

Not really. Marketing is all about developing a personal brand and making sure your buyers understand your value proposition. Accomplishments are like trees falling in a forest – if no one is around to hear them, they may as well not be real.

Imagine your manager in the next talent review meeting, and your name comes up for discussion. Could he/she accurately represent your accomplishments for the last year, and just importantly, come up with examples of the kind of leadership and potential criteria that everyone is being assessed on? If not, then you haven’t marketed yourself very well.

If you’re talented and lucky enough to be considered a high potential by your organization, congratulations! Follow these tips and you’ll increase your chances of making it to the next level!