Developing Your Leadership Succession Pipeline

The Leadership Program
The Leadership Program

Blog Images - Succession Pipeline_MB_22 July 2021_v2How to Build a Strong Leadership Succession Pipeline For Your Company

A succession pipeline (sometimes referred to as a leadership pipeline) is a company’s way of figuring out “Who’s up next?” in the leadership hierarchy. It’s used to create “a more systematic visible system of identifying candidates for succession, combined with the process for their development. 


Having the most thorough plan for your company’s succession pipeline equips the business with the knowledge necessary to retain high-potential employees, develop strong leaders and protect the company legacy.Infographics - Succession Pipeline _785x250_AS_23-07-21


Succession Pipeline planning can help with the following:

  • Disaster Proofing Business
  • Identifying Future Leaders
  • Creating Structure for Training & Development 
  • Maintaining Brand Security 
  • Company Planning for the Long-term
  • Building & Maintaining Employee Trust

Successful Leadership Pipelines...

  • Use a simple non-bureaucratic system (no red tape)  
  • Are Amendable: improvable and resolvable 
  • Are Transparent
  • Measure progress regularly
  • Identify/Appoint Keystone positions between mid & senior management 
Successful Leadership Pipelines

Simple System with Little-to-No Red Tape 

When people reference (or more often complain) about “red tape” they’re talking about the excessive adherence to rules and complex, layered bureaucracy. All of these rules and fine print can easily confuse employees and employers alike. On top of being unnecessarily confusing, almost by definition, red tape can lengthen the time of each movement and decision of the pipeline. 

Clearly some bureaucracy is needed in business, but there are a few ways to ensure your company is cutting down on all that messy red tape when planning a succession pipeline. In fact, often pipeline planning and reducing red tape go hand-in-hand. You’ll notice several of the rules for a successful leadership pipeline, like measuring progress regularly, identifying key positions, and being improvable, help to reduce layered bureaucracy.  

An additional but important part of simplifying a time-consuming system comes in budgeting for emergencies or revisions that need to happen within the business. Having a certain level of preparedness can eliminate the trudge through red tape. 


Amendable, improvable

Often, companies believe that a leadership pipeline is simply a successor list based on performance. However, this can sometimes be too narrow and single-faceted to base a business’ future. There can also be missed opportunities in the potential of other team members.  

The companies that find success in their pipeline, use a broader scope when creating their succession plan. They are not only measuring candidates by their accomplishments but also examining candidates for their potential to accomplish if placed in the right position or given the correct support. By having a concurrent plan that blends leadership development while implementing pipeline planning, employers are better identifying successors. Succession plans should also be able to some-what seamlessly change as the needs of a business shift.     


Progress Measurement 

General best-practice shows employers should regularly give employee’s with the most leadership potential problems to work through, accessing how they got there and how they handled obstacles. In “The Fearless Organization” author Amy Edmonson talks about creating a space for employees where a failure from experimentation is seen as an opportunity to learn and grow and explains, .”...effective performers produce, learn from, and share the lessons from intelligent failures.” 

Organizations with successful track records in their succession plans continually monitor different variables and metrics in order to indicate next moves for the corresponding people. By analyzing both strengths and weaknesses, employers can identify potential leaders with a broader scope. In these models, employees aren't reviewed on perceived failures alone but instead how they dealt with and learned from these moments, and how much progress they’ve made from previous reports. .  



The previously mentioned progress management has an added benefit in allowing the process to be clear and digestible to everyone so that a leadership pipeline’s hierarchy is known to be based on fairness.  This transparency allows more employee autonomy in seeing their progress through management development and eligibility for mobility. 

Employee trust is strengthened when simple questions have simple answers. This way, employees at every level will be able to understand why certain people are in their specific roles and why employees are assigned to different projects. 


Identify/Appoint Keystone positions between mid & Senior management 

Keystone or Linchpin positions in middle management interpret the succession plans and set these plans into motion during changes in upper and lower leadership.

These roles can be in informational and/or decision making in function. While upper management focuses mainly on the long-term of a company, middle managers are integral in a succession pipeline as their focus is geared toward interpersonal skills. They help hold a company together during transition periods by inspiring morale, encouraging innovation, helping in contract negotiations, and leading by example.

Bottom Line

For a pipeline to be effective, there has to be succession management, which is a more living, breathing type of organizational development. An ever-evolving part of this management is in identifying any blind spots that may be in the company’s future planning. Companies that invest in a “leaving no stone unturned” approach when it comes to identifying employee potential and supporting the growth of current effective performers optimize their company’s efficiency.  

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The Leadership Program has deep roots in New York City, and our people embody its hope, diversity and transformative culture. We believe in curiosity, open-mindedness and lifelong learning. We apply those beliefs to our methodology in the classroom and the boardroom to inspire and invigorate schools, communities and businesses.