Many companies avoid using the term “high potentials” for individuals selected for career development and advancement opportunities, according to a survey of more than 450 organizations by AMA Enterprise, a division of American Management Association.
“Just one-quarter of companies now employ the term, but as many as 42% won’t use ‘high potentials,’ and certainly not in communications with employees,” says Sandi Edwards, senior vice president of AMA Enterprise, which provides organizations with assessment, measurement and tailored learning solutions. “What’s more, another 18% say they’re sensitive to the overtones, but haven’t found a better term.”
“If only certain individuals are identified as ‘high potentials,’ where does that leave the rest of the employees?” asks Edwards. “Unfortunately, the term itself suggests most employees may not have much potential, and this isn’t a healthy message for either them or the organization in general.”
Another dimension to the issue, believes Edwards, is the appearance of exclusivity. “Of course, people who aren’t selected may feel excluded or passed over. There’s understandable resentment and the perception that the program itself is not fair.”
The survey asked respondents about employees’ attitude toward selection for their high potential program. Only 14% regard their program as fair and even-handed.
According to Edwards, the wide perception of unfairness has no easy or quick solution. “No matter how open or equitable a career development program may be, there will always be those who think it’s elitist. That goes with the territory. Nevertheless, it’s the job of those who administer these initiatives to do all they can to communicate widely and clearly about opportunities, for selection criteria to be clear and applied uniformly, and for there to be ample development alternatives. This balancing act may be one of the most daunting challenges faced by HR and development professionals today.”
The survey was conducted July 15 to August 3, and respondents consisted of 453 senior-level business, human resources, management professionals and employee contacts drawn from the AMA database of contacts.