Eight Steps for Building Your Leadership Pipeline

Not long ago, I had the pleasure of speaking to the Colorado City/County Management Association on Building Your Leadership Pipeline. Nothing is more critical to the future of your organization; and yet for most organizations, no critical issue is more ignored.

There are roughly 78 million Baby Boomers and 80 million Millennials, but only 54 million Gen X and Gen Y’ers combined. This means that as the Boomers retire, there simply are not enough Gen X and Gen Y in your organization to replace them. The net result is that you are going to be faced with promoting Millennials into supervisory and mid-management positions before they are ready.

Millennials Cartoon
The typical organization does not have a coherent strategy for ensuring that every employee understands and walks the talk of organizational values or for imprinting the corporate DNA and culture on new hires. And even fewer are devoting resources to preparing a leadership pipeline of outstanding talent who are ready for promotion as the generational “trough” begins depleting your promotional pool.

Eight easy steps will help you build your own leadership pipeline:

  1. Do a risk analysis to know where you have inadequate bench depth, professional niches that are going to be hard to fill, and where you have emerging leaders who are not ready yet, but have the potential to become great leaders if you properly prepare them.
  2. Define the goals of your program with specificity. Understand that traditional replacement planning is about more than just filling vacancies as they occur. By contrast, succession planning involves building a leadership pipeline filled with high potential employees who have been invested in to prepare them for the next step of responsibility. Know the difference and plan for success by knowing what you want to accomplish.
  3. Determine the competencies you want to develop. If you don’t carefully define the desired competencies, it is unlikely you will equip these emerging leaders to become the home run hitters they have the potential to become.
  4. Designate the type of leaders you want to develop. The type of program that will produce outstanding Level 5 Leaders is very different from one that will produce outstanding Level 3 Leaders (Good to Great) — and the impact they have on the organization is very different as well.
  5. Design your program. An excellent leadership development program should be: holistic, challenging, thorough, honest, collaborative, rigorous and comprehensive, as well as reformational — and it should honor the nobility of public service. You WILL produce the types of leaders your program is designed to produce, so make sure your program is designed to produce the type of leaders you WANT to produce.
  6. Decide what expectations you have for program participants and what criteria you will use to select them. It is critical that participants know exactly what they are getting into and what investment on their part will be required to achieve success.
  7. Drive success by ensuring a well-marketed and attention-getting program launch.
  8. Don’t stop once the first class completes the coursework. Have them do a capstone project, seek brutal honesty in how you can make the program better, and have an ongoing program for engaging program alumnae and continuing their growth and development and contribution to organizational greatness!

I would love to hear about the very best leadership pipeline programs you know about!

Ron Holifield

Written by:
Ron Holifield
CEO, Strategic Government Resources

4 responses

  1. What a wonderful post, and I have concerns about what is happening as the boomers retire. What I am wondering is this – are organizations working to change their “ladder style” structures to more collaborative organizations to build and develop talent? Or are you finding most organizations are trying to remain in the same hierarchies and build people to fill those management and leadership roles?

    1. Thanks, Scribelife! It’s really up to the organization to determine which method is best in developing future leaders. I think it’s more difficult for local governments to change their organizational structures altogether because each branch/position serves such a specific purpose. It’s probably easier starting out to maintain the structure and make sure you have a process of filling the positions with great leaders.

      1. I think you’re right. It just seems that this structure that has always served our government organizations and provided purpose and direction is now part of the reason they are falling behind in innovation and leadership. It’s a pleasure to meet you!

      2. Structures aren’t necessarily the reason for organizations falling behind in leadership– leaders who are scared to implement change and innovation are. You could have a great structure, but if everyone within it is satisfied with the status quo, no innovation will occur. It was a pleasure chatting with you too!

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