ATD Links Archive
Issue Map
ATD Links Archive
ATD Links

Your Action Plan for Developing a Leadership Pipeline

As valued leaders exit our organizations, we need to have people prepared to step into the vacancies. If individuals are not prepared for this challenge, they are set up to fail in their new position. Replacing leaders generally happens in one of two ways: You can recruit and hire from outside, or you can build a leadership pipeline from within.

Many organizations hire new talent from other companies in the same field or even from outside the field. These individuals often bring new ideas or perspectives to the organization. Although this can be a good thing, it often causes strife from people who have been at the company for a while. And sometimes there are not enough people from outside the organization to fill these empty positions.

A better solution may be to build talent from the bench of existing people in your organization and then foster and nurture that talent. This is called building a talent pipeline.

Choose the Candidates

There are a variety of methods to identify high potentials. Organizations have to choose which methods will work best for them; however, we suggest that organizations use more than one method. For example, performance reviews, personal development plans, career plans, and talent reviews can be used together to accurately identify high potentials.

High potentials are often selected based on their performance, intelligence, or drive and determination. Frequently, leadership struggles with their selection because not all top performers have the ability to succeed as leaders. Not all people possess the characteristics or competencies the organization is looking for. High-potential individuals have the skills for the job, the ability to interact with others, and the drive and determination for continual learning and growth.

Assessments that include the competencies needed for next-level roles can be another method to assess and determine qualifications. Such assessments evaluate where individuals are and where they need to be. The variances can be defined as a gap, and this gap in performance requirements indicates the level of development a particular individual needs. The results can guide the progress of those individuals who are selected for the high-potential leadership program.

Garner Organizational Support

High-potential leadership programs are developed and tailored to the needs and expectations of an organization. When developing the program, the first consideration has to be getting the support of the organization. Leaders will have to answer these questions:

  • Who will champion the program?
  • Do we fully support the program?
  • Will the program be a good investment?
  • How will we evaluate its success?
  • How will it benefit the organization in both talent development and sustainability of leadership?
  • What specifically should we include in the curriculum?
  • Will we have leaders who are willing mentors?

Assess High Potentials

Needs assessments identify gaps between what is and what should be—the current state of knowledge and skills and what is needed in the future. To show this connection, the assessment must be linked to core competencies, organizational goals, and other strategic initiatives.

Making this link helps contributors see the role of development and learning in an integrated approach toward organizational success and sustainability. This process provides a training curriculum that not only closely matches your business needs, but also addresses your workforce’s strengths and areas of needed improvement.


The assessment results will help you identify:

  • training topics that will grow the participant and the organization
  • examples of how to translate training into on-the-job transfer of learned skills
  • preferred learning methods of your workforce
  • the goal of your learning program. 

Whether you choose an existing assessment or develop one of your own, you must be sure that your assessment measures proficiency or knowledge in your organization’s standard competencies. This baseline of measurement is a firm foundation toward achieving organizational goals.
In addition to the formal assessment, collect relevant data from existing resources. These can include job trends and high-priority occupation data (available through partnerships with local colleges and workforce boards). Data gathered during the assessment phase should be used to develop the training content and address program goals.

Create a Development Action Plan

Create a plan with specific and measurable goals tied to high-potential employees’ new responsibilities. These goals should be challenging, but possible. You want to push, not punish. Development discussions can be integrated into the annual evaluation process as high potentials advance in the organization. Provide feedback at regular intervals along the way. Revisit the action plan at least quarterly— monthly, if possible.

One way to look at potential leaders’ development needs is to sit down and map out the skills required for various positions in your company. Identify the core competencies of someone new to the company or a position and the increasingly progressive skills and knowledge necessary to advance through leadership. Make a list of the critical skills or components of a given job, in addition to any required competencies for success. Finally, identify any knowledge that is needed for those positions. By matching this information to each employee’s skills, competencies, and career goals, you will have a better understanding of gaps or areas of strength. 

Editor’s Note: This article is excerpted from the October 2017 issue of TD at Work, “ Developing a Leadership Pipeline.” The authors provide guidance on how companies can create a talent pipeline so they’re prepared for the workplace of tomorrow. You will learn challenges organizations face, ways to differentiate high potentials from high performers, and an action plan for developing high-potential employees.





About the Author
Annette M. Cremo is president and owner of Performance Plus Training, Consulting, and Coaching.
About the Author
Thomas Bux is director of Workforce Training at Lehigh Carbon Community College.
Be the first to comment
Sign In to Post a Comment
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.