Your leadership pipeline: its importance and how to embed it
You might have a leadership team of absolute superstars who have taken your organisation from strength to strength. That’s great news, but what happens when one of your leaders decides to move on or worse, what if several of them leave in a relatively brief period of time? You can go out to the marketplace and see what kind of leadership talent you can attract to your organisation however, is this the really the best scenario for your organisation’s culture in the long-term?
High performing organisations stay one step ahead of the game by developing what’s known as a leadership pipeline. This involves identifying and developing up-and-coming leaders from within your organisation so they’re ready and able to step up to a leadership role when one becomes available. So you can begin embedding a leadership pipeline within your organisation, we’ve put together some best practice advice for better developing your next generation of leaders.
Don’t just look for the finished product
While it’s great to have qualified and experienced employees waiting in the wings, you shouldn’t ignore team members who have demonstrated maturity, capability and initiative early on in their careers. They may not have the full package of knowledge and skills right now, but investing in their learning and development at this stage will pay big dividends when the time comes for them to take on a larger role. They’ll also be more engaged with your organisation and will be more likely to reciprocate the commitment you’ve shown towards their career.
Identify the positions you can’t live without
It’s a big loss whenever any of your leaders move on and these losses are felt more when it’s in an especially crucial role. The most important leadership positions will be different depending on your industry and what your organisation’s core competencies are. For example, IT in some organisations IT teams may be more focused on operational activities whereas other IT leaders are tasked with driving innovation in developing new products and services.
Similarly, your customer service delivery might be a basic function if your products and services don’t require a great deal of support, or this could be the make or break function for your organisation if your customers need high levels of after-purchase care. The point is, wherever your organisation is driving a competitive advantage, you must ensure that you’re developing your next generation of leaders so that they are ready to step up and step in when these positions become available.
Be transparent and measure progress
There is a prevailing philosophy with many leaders that you shouldn’t promise promotions to people before they’ve earned them. Keeping these decisions a secret might have avoided potential disappointment in the past but a performance focused environment requires you to show people where the goalposts are so that they can aim for them.
You don’t need to offer people a contract that guarantees a promotion but you do need to let them know they’re on the right track if they continue their development program. Formalise their development by linking improvements in performance to training and education opportunities. The worst-case scenario for investing time and resources into your potential leaders is that they may decide to leave. That is a risk that every organisation needs to take on. If an organisation doesn’t commit to upskilling staff, they’ll find themselves shorthanded when they need to quickly replace a key leadership position internally.
Having a mix of external and internal options for vacant leadership positions will allow you to plan and manage your leadership team more strategically, rather than reactively. Promoting internal candidates into crucial leadership positions also sends a positive message to your employees that your organisation is committed to developing its people and their careers.