Beryl Okoth was devastated when she was not selected to take part in the talent training programme at the communications company she works for. Specialised training and mentorship programmes excited her.
From the moment she joined the company soon after graduating from university, she looked forward to the day her employer would design such a programme, therefore when the opportunity finally came, Beryl was eager to participate.
Being young and innovative, she was confident that she would be selected. More importantly, she had been a diligent and dedicated employee, and had remained loyal even when her colleagues resigned and joined rival companies. So, why not be rewarded? She thought.
Her employer, it would later emerge, had different plans. Beryl’s workmates, including her closest friend, were selected for the programme while she was left out.
Her dream to acquire leadership training had been dashed. She was deeply heartbroken and felt short-changed and unappreciated. It pained her to think that her selfless service spanning three years at her workplace had gone unnoticed. Her motivation nosedived and her productivity was significantly affected.
Beryl’s story is not unique. It is normal for some employees to feel undervalued when they are left out of such programmes by their employer.
Today, most modern organisations have a talent or leadership training programme, where both internal and external graduates are mentored. Often, these ‘‘chosen few’’ are young, dynamic individuals who demonstrate unique capabilities to lead effectively and influence positively. These individuals usually make up about five per cent of a company’s workforce, and employers rope them in with the intention of nurturing their talents and developing them into High Potential (HIPO) leaders who will become vibrant leaders someday.
But are talent training programmes always accurate measures of individual’s capabilities and potential? What criteria do organisations use to select candidates for such programmes? How do they know for sure that trainees will transform into able leaders? What about those who don’t get that opportunity? Does it mean that they are incapable of leadership? Is there hope for them?
First, the selection process for individuals set to join these highly coveted programmes is usually a highly guarded secret. In most instances, selection is done at the discretion of the company’s management.
The process could also be formal, where potential candidates are asked to apply. In this case, however, it is ultimately up to the management to select the successful candidates. This is usually done based on the company’s aspirations.
According to Nicholas Kasidhi, a seasoned talent manager and Head of Talent Management at Diageo Kenya, assessment for a candidate’s suitability is often done based on a mix of aptitude tests, interviews, case studies, simulations and role plays.
‘‘A progressive organisation should have clear selection processes that are underpinned by levels of competency, and leadership standards. This is what they use to assess the potential of their future leaders,’’ Kasidhi says.
He adds that from the onset, candidates seeking such programmes must demonstrate high levels of self-drive, agility, and a winning attitude.
But what happens when a graduate fails to live up to their potential?
A 2017 survey by Harvard Business Review revealed that 42 per cent of individuals in HIPO programmes ‘‘may not belong there’’. Of these, 12 per cent rank at the bottom quarter of leadership effectiveness within their companies.
In the survey where 1,964 people in such programmes were interviewed and assessed, it turned out that many of them lacked strategic vision, and the ability to motivate and inspire others. This is blamed squarely on the failure by organisations to select the right persons for HIPO programme, or overestimating the capabilities of those selected.
‘‘In principle, each person is unique and has the potential to make a special contribution to an organisation. If, for any reason, a graduate falls short of the expected levels, it is upon the mentors to identify the existing barriers and design appropriate intervention to accelerate their growth,’’ he says, noting that leaders of the programme should closely monitor the progress of such an individual.
‘‘Sometimes the person could be redeployed elsewhere where they are more likely to excel,’’ he suggests.
Kasidhi adds that selection to a talent training programme cannot be used in isolation to assess employees’ value.
‘‘A blended approach that incorporates bubble (short) assignments, secondments, and other projects that may not necessarily be in a defined talent programme, are usually a better and objective measure of people’s capabilities,’’ he says.
Business author Elizabeth Uviebinene says that it is imperative for an organisation to nurture high potential persons ‘‘whether there is a talent development programme in place or not.”
However, she advises employers to be cautious about overhyping the training programmes, arguing that they do not always return a 100 per cent success rate.
She says: ‘‘HIPO programmes can sometimes bring about needless pressure for an employee to follow a predestined path to leadership.’’
Uviebinene however admits that failure to be selected to join a talent or leadership training programme usually takes a heavy toll on hardworking young professionals. She says that early success is not a guarantee for long-term or sustainable professional triumph.
‘‘Professional success is not a linear path. If you miss out on an opportunity to join the training, don’t beat yourself too hard. Go ahead and prove your capabilities on your own terms.”