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5 Best Practices to Optimize Your Leadership Pipeline


“We have … nobody.” I’m hearing this often from my clients as we start to discuss the strength of their leadership pipelines. After years of turmoil in the pandemic and the following Great Resignation, most companies I see feel battered. As more leaders retire or take off for attractive new opportunities, they feel deeply uncertain about who will step up. And our data shows just how worried people are.

According to DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast, there is a shortage of leaders to fulfill critical roles. Recent survey data also shows that bench strength has not recovered since the pandemic. This year, only 12 percent of companies report confidence in the strength of their bench. Looking at this data compared to how leaders responded in 2011 shows a 33 percent decrease. This reveals companies are struggling in their preparation to fill key leadership positions.

The takeaway? It’s not easy to develop a strong leadership pipeline. It takes a lot of discipline and structure to ensure that you’re choosing the right leaders and accelerating their development with purpose toward future roles.

But the companies succeeding are the ones that will win big in this uncertain economy.
Here are some of the challenges I’m seeing among my clients, and more importantly, some of the key practices that separate those that are succeeding and those that are struggling:

Succession starts at the bottom. Too many companies think of their leadership pipeline very narrowly, considering it only as a succession plan for executives at the top. But that’s short-sighted and doesn’t account for the rapid growth and change nearly every business is facing.

You need to extend your efforts down to the frontline and even emerging leaders. Why? This is where most of your talent is, and these people will move fast. If you don’t spot your high-potential leaders here, you will lose them quickly.


If you don’t get this step right, you will not have the right leaders higher up in the pipeline. You also must consider that your development strategy is far more effective if it spans the entire pipeline.

Organizations with high development quality across the pipeline are winning. According to DDI research, organizations with effective development across all leadership levels are significantly more likely to be top financial performers compared to their peers without effective leadership development across their pipeline.

Data must be nonnegotiable. Many companies still rely on leader nominations through the nine-box method to spot potential leadership talent. While this method is scalable, it creates a huge opportunity for bias.


After all, do your managers know what they are looking for? At this point, it’s no longer acceptable not to have data as part of your talent decision-making processes.

How can organizations get the data they need to make high-quality talent decisions? A leadership skills assessment is a great way for leadership candidates to get data on where they are strong and areas where development may be needed.

With this data on strengths and gaps, organizations can build targeted individual development plans. They can also get data on the inventory of their talent, to spot both weak and strong areas in their leadership pipelines.

Learn more best practices for building your company’s bench strength in DDI’s blog.

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