I have heard companies talk about their desire to recruit High Potential Candidates for around 12 years now and the journey since has been both interesting and enlightening.
Looking back I do think that HIPO was no more than a fad 12 years ago and companies wanted to be involved in it despite not really understanding what it meant. I have since been involved with a broad range of companies who all have a Leadership succession plan involving the need for High Potentials.
I agree with this Harvard article that you cannot consider employees simply because they culturally fit, deliver targets in the roles they are in etc... The fact is that High Potentials are unlikely to have delivered anything close to the Leadership role you have in mind for them and so it is a case of gaining as much data as you can to help predict future performance. Cultural fit now doesn't necessarily mean cultural fit in 5 years from now if your organisation is going to embark on a major transformation project for example.
In short data is key to your success as is a robust Executive Coaching programme to prepare your HIPO for the road ahead, coaching against identified behavioural gaps whilst also putting them in roles and situations to develop key skills and career experiences. We successfully use Hogan Assessments but there are other well validated Psychometric tools and systems.
A high-potential employee is usually in the top 5% of employees in an organization. These people are thought to be the organization’s most capable, most motivated, and most likely to ascend to positions of responsibility and power. To help these employees prepare for leadership roles in a thoughtful, efficient manner, companies often institute formal high-potential (HIPO) programs. And yet, according to our data, more than 40% of individuals in HIPO programs may not belong there. We collected information on 1,964 employees from three organizations who were designated as high potentials, measuring their leadership capability using a 360-degree assessment that consisted of feedback from their immediate manager, several peers, all direct reports, and often several other individuals who were former colleagues or who worked two levels below them. On average, each leader had been given feedback from 13 assessors.