If your company has re-organized, someone exited a critical position, or a business unit is growing like crazy, you might want to give your leadership pipeline a check-up. Most companies that utilize strategic leadership pipelines have an annual or biennial review process, but that might leave them in a bind in the midst of major changes.
A rigid leadership pipeline also could exclude high-potential leaders who aspire to top positions.
A creative director of a mid-sized marketing agency, Paul, shared with me recently that he thought he was in line for his boss’s position. He said they had discussed their careers, and he was sure to be John’s successor when John moved to the parent company next year. The parent company grew quicker than expected, and John moved there sooner than planned. Paul was surprised to learn he was not identified as John’s successor and the role would be redefined before the search process. Paul was encouraged to pursue the role, and he will do so, but that is much different than being in the pipeline as part of succession planning.
If you are a leader, use the questions below to assess whether your company’s leadership pipeline is healthy or anemic:
1. Is there a leadership pipeline and are you part of it? You should know what the pipeline looks like and whether you are considered for it. If it’s a secret, assess whether the company’s leadership practices are antiquated and how comfortable you are with that.
2. Does the pipeline align with your career goals? Make sure advancing as a leader there fits into the rest of your life. A student in an MBA class I taught last year exited the pipeline at his workplace because he did not want to travel as much as would be required. Eventually, he will likely switch employers to achieve his goals in a place more aligned with how he values his time.
3. Does it align with what is happening in your market? Being in the pipeline for a business unit that is losing revenue and has few customer prospects will not lead to a solid future. Make sure you’re in a pipeline where growth is occurring.
4. Is the senior team heavily involved with the pipeline? One HR manager I spoke to about this recently said she handles the whole process with very little input from the senior team. She has her finger on the pulse of her organization; however, it would be difficult for her to create real learning opportunities. It would be best for HR to facilitate the logistics while business leaders identify the development paths and relevant on-the-job learning opportunities.
5. Have you spoken with the senior team about your future? Paul’s reliance on only his boss was a mistake he learned the hard way. Now, that might work out in some organizations, so at least discern for yourself.
6. Are decisions about those in the pipeline made by a team, rather than by one person? It would be best not to have all your hopes and dreams rest on one person’s input. The team would know more about the company-wide goals and changes.
7. Are your development goals and learning opportunities aligned with the pipeline? For example, you might need to run an operation you don’t love in order to broaden your experience for a higher level. Are you OK with that or do you want to focus on one area?
8. Are you developing others in the pipeline? Leaders develop other leaders. Who are you developing and what learning opportunities have you created for others?
Ideally, the pipeline would be more of a matrix than a pipe. It would be ideal for companies to develop people for the senior leadership team, with heavy emphasis on leadership and less on a particular function. If you get stuck in a functional box, your chances of joining the senior team go down. But, if the company concentrates its efforts on developing strong organizational leaders, they will have more options when positions need filling, and you will too.
Companies that have upgraded their pipelines to a multi-dimensional matrix are likely to be the most healthy these days. The old rigid format will leave too much to chance, making those pipelines anemic places you might not want to join.