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Must you have a clear career vision to be a high potential?

12 November 2018, by Lesley Vanleke
  • #Career Fitness Profiler
  • #talent development

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a seminar on Talent Review with Doris Sims Spies, represented in Europe by Ingrid De Backer. The seminar offered a ton of interesting tools and insights to make a talent review process run smoothly. One of the things Doris stressed was that managers need to have a career discussion with their employees before going into the talent review meeting, arguing that employees want to be part of the career discussion. This makes sense, of course, people want to have something to say about their careers. But, do all employees have a clear career vision to discuss in the career conversation with their managers? And what if they don’t? I found myself asking the question: “Can you be a high potential if you don’t have a clear career vision?”

I think the answer is yes and no, which will become clear as you read this blog.

Imagine that you are a dedicated people manager. You want both the organization and your employees to thrive and be happy. You have understood that careers have become a negotiation between you and each employee and so you prepare career discussions with your employees well. You have your perspective on the potential of some of your stronger employees and you see possible career paths for them. You realize you need to discuss your views and observations with them, so you can give the right input on the career vision of your employees in the next talent review meeting and make qualitative decisions, right?
I think you will agree that some of your employees have a good idea on where they want to go professionally, but more often than you would like, you encounter employees for whom the career vision is rather blurry. In an effort to dig a little deeper into what makes them tick, you realize that answers do not come after a one-hour meeting on the topic. The truth is that it takes time, professional experiences and reflection upon them to craft a personal career vision and mission. Any professional career coach will tell you that doing this exercise with individuals takes multiple sessions spread out over a couple of months.

I think organizations would benefit from facilitating the development of a clear career vision within individuals, allowing individuals to develop this vision independently from the organizational perspective on the career of that individual. I think this is true for all employees, including those you consider to be high potentials.

These are my arguments:

  • Careers have become a negotiation. If one of the parties in the negotiation does not know what to negotiate for to ensure a long term relationship, this seems a missed opportunity.
  • Work has become extremely consuming. It wants all your creativity, engagement and dedication. This is only possible if your career choices are based on intrinsic motivation and if you can tap into your personal talents to keep energy levels up. As an individual, it is key for you to understand what YOUR idea of subjective career success is.
  • Objective career success still dominates our thinking about career success. People are still lured into thinking that climbing the corporate ladder, being part of highly visible projects, having an international career, etc. is what they should strive for. If after thorough reflection these objectives still stand firm, then there is nothing wrong with that, but what if along the way these people find out they are actually trying to please everyone but themselves? That’s not something you want to find out when your well into your forties…
  • Preparing people for future roles takes all sorts of efforts from organizations. Often substantial financial investment is involved. If a decision is being taken to prepare someone for a specific role, it might be wise to double-check if the role really is in line with a solid career vision to support it.

If you are an HR professional, you might find these questions triggering:

  • Do the development programs for young potentials, for example, include a career development module with a focus on subjective career success, to be developed independently from the organization? Are people facilitated in answering though questions like “What do I want to create in this world?”, “What do I want to see more of in this world?”, “What are my unique talents, sources, capacities,… which I can use to make this happen?”  
  • In the talent review meeting, is there enough information available on what subjective career success means for the individuals who are being discussed? Do you know enough about the long term career vision of your employees?
  • Your career development policy, is it only driven from the organization’s perspective (= securing continuity) or does the individual’s perspective (= subjective career success) have its rightful place?
  • To what degree is it really possible for individuals to self-manage their careers? How much ‘old’ career thinking is still present in the talent culture? Think of: mobility is punished by managers, employees thinking HR should solve career problems, job crafting is absent, function classification is dominant,…

In conclusion, to respond to the question, whether high potentials must have a clear career vision. Yes, I think part of the being a high potential is about thinking consciously about the career and being connected to the notion that a career vision is more than focusing on achieving objective career success. And also no, I think an employee can be considered a high potential and not yet have a clear view on the career. In those cases, it is useful for a manager to rattle the fundamentals of the career vision of these employees a little. If the career vision is not sound yet, maybe the person should be offered some time to reflect a little more before being pushed forward in high leadership positions or be prepared for a specific role that closes future doors.

Contact us if you want to know more about the Career Fitness Profiler.


About the author

Lesley Vanleke

Lesley Vanleke holds over 20 years of experience in HR. In 2014 she co-founded TalentLogiQS, where she searches to understand all different aspects of customers’ challenges and needs. She strives to be a sounding board and bring about connections that deliver added value for all parties concerned.