This is a three-part series about high-potential managers. It's intended for organizational leaders and learning & development professionals who are responsible for nurturing internal talent at the manager level. You can read the first in the series, "What are high potential managers and how do you identify them?" here.

Investing in your "HiPo" managers

In our last post, we broke down, "What are high potential managers and how do you identify them?"

Once you have an effective way to empower your managers to select a high-potential program, it's time to decide how to invest in them.

Standard approaches to developing top managers

Lots of companies have programs for their high-potential managers (HiPos). This includes rotations across different business units, special two-day programs, mentoring programs, and sometimes even paying for them to get a coach. But these approaches are expensive to design and deliver, creating two classes of managers – those deemed high-potential and the rest.

Let’s examine a few options for investing in your HiPo managers ...

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Personal coaching

With the right coach, one-on-one coaching is powerful and rewarding. And who doesn’t want a coach in their corner? It’s great to talk with someone periodically about your challenges. As the person responsible for developing these leaders, should you spend $3K, $10K, $100K on everyone who wants a coach?

For all but very few organizations, it’s way too expensive to offer a coach to everyone who wants one. Plus, the results of coaching vary enormously. Some people really step up their game by taking action from what they learn with a coach, while others have the same conversation, week after week, without changing their behavior much at all. So, no, offering everyone a coach is probably not the best approach.

Low-cost, canned options

Low-cost eLearning doesn't really work when your managers desperately need to learn to lead their teams (see study after study by Josh Bersin, Brandon Hall, etc.). And young new leaders, as well as the rest of us, are tired of canned lectures, seminars, retreats, and workshops. Yet these are still the most used tools for leadership development.

As it turns out, studies show we’re far more likely to change our behavior, and enjoy learning, when we learn from peers rather than experts.

A combined approach: Peer-learning with a coach

If you want to find the sweet spot for high-impact, start by looking at the recipe that’s worked well for years for top-flight leadership development programs like The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), YPO, and Vistage: bring a group of leaders together, from different organizations and functions, and let them support and challenge one another as they grow. 


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Peer learning is extremely effective – but ONLY if the group feels psychologically safe. When there’s a perceived risk of embarrassment, competition, or political ramifications, people don’t tend to speak up or fully participate in anything, much less something intended for their growth and learning (see Amy Edmondson’s volumes of research about psychological safety).

But simply getting the right peer group together doesn't make the best leadership development programs work. You do need someone to guide the learning. Without a coach, purely peer-based programs can sometimes feel adrift.

Keep the hard stuff

Ok. Now we have the beginning of a high-potential program for managers that is fair, affordable, and impactful: give managers the chance to self-select a peer-based, coach-led experience. (See our first post in this series that covers self-selection).

Next, to make it really work, give managers the space to explore their own unique leadership style, but also help them with the hard stuff for any people leader – having difficult conversations, giving feedback, holding others accountable, creating a cohesive team, leading diverse teams... (If you want some data, we did extensive research to find the Top 18 New Manager Challenges. Hit us up.) But this "help" shouldn't be easy. To be impactful, it has to push participants beyond their comfort zones, involves a lot of learning by doing, and requires some rigorous, hard thinking. If they are not diving into this, there may be a hill, will or skill challenge on your hands.

So what's new?

If you've designed or delivered learning professionally, or if you've attended much training yourself, you probably already know that the best learning involves 1) groups of peers who support and challenge one another, 2) learning that's spaced out over time so you don't feel overwhelmed, and 3) lots of opportunities to practice the things you're learning. But very few learning experiences today do all three of these things, much less do them well.

Yet these things don't have to be expensive or complicated. So certainly, they can, and should, be the norm when you develop your best managers. After all, we're talking about your future leaders whose failure now means high turnover, limited innovation, and slower org growth for your org.

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Keep reading:
5 common pitfalls of HiPo manager development
What are high-potential managers and how do you identify them?

About Lead Belay

Lead Belay is a supportive but challenging, peer-based, coach-led experience designed specifically for new managers. It’s fun, but it’s also difficult at times. It’s meant for people who want to do the work to grow as people leaders – exactly the type of people you want as your high-potentials.

Let's chat!

We'd love to hear from you!


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