A critical task in the succession planning process of any
organization is identifying candidates. Traditionally,
candidates have been identified based on past performance. While
this seems logical, it is problematic in practice.
Past performance always measures success in a lower-level
position. What is needed in succession planning is a system to
identify potential for success in a future higher-level
position. The best predictive model I have found is the
Leadership Pipeline Model by Charan, Drotter, and Noel.
The Leadership Pipeline provides a model that describes the
skills, time applications, and values required to succeed at
different levels in the organization. While most leadership
models and theories describe characteristics of leaders in
general, the Leadership Pipeline describes specific criteria for
success in transitioning from one level to the next.
The Leadership Pipeline Model helps us to see the importance of
identifying candidates for positions throughout the entire
organization. The pipeline must be continuously filled with
leaders who have been identified for development for the next
higher level. A pipeline clog at one level will clearly harm
leadership development and succession throughout the entire
organization. What is needed is a carefully monitored system for
developing in-house talent from front-line supervisors to CEOs.
At GE and Citicorp, two companies using the Leadership Pipeline
Model, leadership passages from one level to the next are seen
as “turns” in the leadership pipeline. These turns (or passages)
provide significant developmental experiences. If these turns
are skipped the individual may not be prepared for higher-level
leadership positions. The focus for development should be the
lack of critical skills and values for the next higher level,
not past performance.
I am often asked “Is it better to recruit from outside the
organization or to develop leaders from within?” The safe, but
rather uninsightful answer is, “It depends.”
Recruiting from outside the organization makes sense when a
major change in corporate culture or direction is needed. But, I
would caution about the over-dependence on outside recruiting of
leaders. Desperate attempts to recruit leaders from outside the
organization suggest an inadequate leadership pipeline.
Recruiting leaders from the outside of the organization can be
very expensive. As we all know, there is a talent shortage in
the marketplace. This can lead to paying high premiums (or even
outright price wars) for promising talent.
The Leadership Pipeline Model offers a common language
(terminology) and specific criteria for what to look for in
leaders at the next higher level. The Model provides a
description of the skills, time applications, and values
required of leaders at each successive level. This criteria is
critical not only for identifying candidates but also for their
The key to identifying candidates for higher levels of
responsibility is to predict their potential to succeed in
attaining and using the skills, time applications, and values of
the next higher level. Past performance is often a poor
predictor of future success. Remember that the skills, time
applications, and values of each successive level of leadership
are dramatically different.
The challenge in succession planning and identifying candidates
is making sure people are assigned to a level that is
appropriate for them. The challenge is complicated by the fact
that people change (hopefully for the better) over time. An
appropriate position for someone today may not be appropriate
three years from now.
Identifying candidates for the organization’s future leadership
positions is a critical task. Do you have a system for
identifying candidates that considers not only their current
skills, but also their willingness to adopt new work values and