HiPo vs HiPer – Tips to Tell Them Apart

Mistaking high performers (HiPers) for high potentials (HiPos) will cost your organization…but it happens all the time! There are countless examples and analogies but I still like “The best players don’t always make the best coaches” Thereby, “The best employees may not make the strongest leaders.”


HiPers are more easily identified – they outperform their peers, delivering results and helping your organization achieve its goals today. HiPos will help your company achieve their goals in the future, but the term “potential” itself includes an element of risk and uncertainty: “latent qualities or abilities that may be developed and lead to future success or usefulness” (Oxford Dictionaries).

It is estimated that only 10-15% of hipers are hipos

But how can you identify a HiPo employee?

  1. Do they add value beyond their role and know the business vs their job?
  2. Are they proactive vs. reactive?
  3. Are they a team player and do they motivate others?
  4. Are they leaders vs. followers? Do they look for opportunities to contribute their skills and demonstrate their leadership abilities?
  5. Are they receptive to feedback, avoiding making the same mistake twice?
  6. Are they curious and can they see the bigger picture?


If you can enthusiastically answer “Yes!” to the majority (or better yet all) of the questions above, chances are that HiPo might be worth the risk! But, it’s important to not only identify but also to nurture these rising stars! Studies conducted by the likes of Harvard Business Review demonstrate that nearly 40% of internal job moves made by people identified as HiPos end in failure and estimates regarding the real cost of losing an employee (including the underlying impact on employee morale, productivity, and company revenue) range from 0.5-3x annual salary.

Here are some additional things to keep top of mind to avoid being part of the failure statistic:

  • Don’t assume that HiPos are highly engaged – focus on engagement and retention strategies.
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of leadership development.
  • Communicate, but don’t over-commit upfront and offer something you can’t deliver on.
  • Although many of the fundamental skills requirements do not change drastically, don’t assume that the competencies that enable success at one organizational level are the same as people move up in the organization (think supervisor vs C-level executive).