A Strategic Plan for Developing Your Leadership Pipeline

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Running a successful company today involves effectively navigating complex 21st century challenges like cybersecurity, digitization, and market shifts, such as the Great Resignation. Age-old hurdles like board and investor relations, financial performance, operational efficiency, and customer satisfaction remain priorities too. Just remember that maintaining a leadership pipeline—the pool of high potential employees being developed as future organizational leaders—also belongs on your list of critical responsibilities that determine long-term company success.

According to Learning Solutions, training and holding onto well-trained professionals is the key to developing a successful leadership pipeline. Yet, a 2021 leadership report revealed that only a third of CEOs rated the quality of their frontline leadership as very good or excellent. It’s time to reverse this trend and get serious about developing your leadership pipeline.

Proven Tips for Developing Leadership Pipelines – Creating A Foundation for Future Company Success

After placing a C-suite executive within an organization and then helping our clients build a cohesive and complementary team of professionals at their critical mid-tier management positions, we’ve found the following actions generate the most loyal and long-term leadership benches.

  1. Making good hiring decisions

Take the time to formulate and conduct strategic hiring processes. We always advise creating a candidate scorecard that identifies key functional skills required for a role, as well as soft skills needed like collaboration and communication. We recommend that you hire individuals who represent a culture-add that aligns with company values and who possess skillsets that complement those of existing team members to ensure incoming employees help grow the organization.

It’s also important to approach the hiring process with internal consensus about current team and company needs and priorities to ensure you hire professionals prepared to offer appropriate solutions. Educating your interviewers on how to ask about and assess candidates’ skills and their cultural-add helps you hire the ideal candidates.

  1. Identifying high potentials

Among external candidates and internal employees alike, continuously look for people with the high potential to be up-and-coming leaders. As explained in this article, high potential employees aren’t necessarily the highest performers. More often, they are people who can see the big picture, leverage other employees’ skills for the company good, and influence attitudes in good times or challenging ones. They also have a unique ability to motivate others.

  1. Investing in career development training and plans

McKinsey found that developing talent was one of the top five CEO priorities coming out of the pandemic. For current and potential leaders, this development should involve formal training that elevates functional IQ and emotional intelligence. If you don’t have the capacity to develop this training yourself, use external resources, because the high churn in today’s workforce is exacerbated when executives and mid-level managers are promoted without training to help them succeed in roles that increasingly come with very high or even unrealistic expectations.

Companies reap significant rewards by taking the next step and creating a structured process that identifies current and potential leaders’ strengths and weaknesses and maps a career journey that capitalizes on the former and shores up the latter. Furthermore, supporting employees throughout their career progression—including when the next step means leaving, bolsters your market reputation as a desirable employer, which makes it much easier to recruit top talent.

  1. Providing real-world-learning experiences

In addition to formal training, those being tapped as future organizational leaders need real-world experiences that challenge them and help them learn how to be a leader, something that CEOs and other top executives often take for granted when promoting employees into management roles.

We suggest assigning high potentials to special projects or problem-solving tasks, especially cross-functional ones that introduce them to various parts of the business and other current and future leaders. Giving employees a chance to successfully tackle the responsibilities of higher-level roles prior to their formal promotion is a proven way to develop next-gen leaders.

  1. Promoting cross-functional expertise

IBM and Ford have proven that lateral moves across business units help high potential employees round out their experience level and gain more institutional knowledge. McKinsey notes that companies that do this for leadership development purposes attract and retain the best and brightest talent.

We agree, which is why we point out when internal candidates make the best choice during client searches. In fact, we’ve found that when you expose your high potentials employees to other parts of the business through internal hiring, they often discover functional responsibilities that they excel at and like even more than their former roles. This results in stronger company performance and higher employee satisfaction, both of which help ensure the stability of your leadership pipeline.

  1. Assigning mentors

In addition to the monetary resources required for training and development programs, it also takes time to build a really solid leadership bench. Members of your C-suite and other seasoned managers need to be willing to give their time to mentor and coach up-and-coming leaders. By matching your high potentials to more senior leaders or someone with a critical skill they need to develop, these mentors can help assess ideas for solving problems, provide advice at critical junctures, and give examples of how they or other seasoned professionals managed various situations.

  1. Conducting yearly check-ins

Next-gen leaders should meet annually with their manager and/or HR to track the goal-to-actual progress of their career development plan. This provides a framework for identifying formal training, action-learning experiences, and potential lateral moves for each new year, thus proving your commitment to ongoing leadership development.

How a Strategic Hiring Partner Helps Develop Your Leadership Pipeline

By forging a partnership with a search firm like Focus Search Partners, it helps ensure that you are identifying and attracting the most qualified individuals for your leadership pipeline. We work closely with clients and their teams to accurately identify and assess the skills of both internal and external talent and find the candidates who best complement those of your existing staff and fulfill your current and upcoming needs. This partnership generates greater company and individual success—a dual achievement that seals your reputation as a company with the most to offer the best talent.

Need to bolster your leadership pipeline? Contact Focus Search Partners today.

By Sandy Boyce and Lynn Durant, Managing Directors at Focus Search Partners