Addressing your CEO's top priorities: building an effective talent pipeline

Addressing your CEO's top priorities: building an effective talent pipeline

Organizations are struggling to grow ― in part because of an inability to attract and retain the skilled talent they need. This issue, a key finding in PwC's 2011 survey of CEOs, again dominated the latest survey released in the first quarter of 2012. In the 2012 survey, one in four CEOs reported being unable to pursue a market opportunity, or having to cancel or delay a strategic initiative due to talent shortages or mismatches.

So how do you build a talent pipeline that’s impervious to economic impacts, internal challenges, and competitors’ moves? We’ve conducted interviews with thought-leaders and seasoned HR experts in effective organizations to find best practices for closing the talent gap.


(in alphabetical order)

Tom Callam, Director of HR
Corbett Duncan Hubly (*
Public accountants
Itasca, IL, USA

David Creelman, Partner
Creelman Lambert (
Human capital research
Toronto, ON, Canada

Molly Foley
Next Generation Consulting (
Market research firm
Madison, WI, USA

Henryk Krajewski, Vice President and Senior Leadership Advisor
Anderson Leadership Group (
Leadership advice and research firm
Toronto, ON, Canada

Michelle Reid, HR Manager
Sun-Rype (*
Juice and fruit snack company
Kelowna, BC, Canada

Melanie Rydalch, Senior HR Manager,
Basic American Foods (*
Dehydrated food solutions for wholesale and retail
Walnut Creek, CA, USA

* Halogen Software customer

Our team of experts told us that to attract and retain the skilled talent they need, organizations need a two-pronged approach that balances building an internal pipeline of qualified candidates with effectively recruiting talent from outside the organization. This ensures that they have the right candidates available for key positions when needed.

Here's what they had to say on the topic…

Ensure comprehensive development of internal talent

Given the reported challenges in hiring across most industries, more CEOs now expect to implement comprehensive talent development within their organizations. But what makes an internal talent development program robust?

First, consider its reach. At every level, organizations need to focus on growing the next generation of leaders and key contributors. That means constructing a pipeline through which talent can flow toward the right positions. Krajewski described his vision of system-wide development opportunities: “You must create an experience for younger, newer managers to gain more experience, for mid-curve managers to take the next step, and for executive managers to learn the skills that will to allow them to push the company farther, faster.” And those kinds of tiered development opportunities need to extend beyond just your management team. You need to consider all the roles and skills that are critical to your organization's current and ongoing success, and create the same kind of "ladder of development and opportunity" for staff in those areas. This is really the only way to build an effective succession plan.

Second, give individuals on your staff an opportunity to develop effective collaboration skills. Those skills include the ability to work well with members of all generational cohorts. It’s not uncommon to find Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials working together on today’s teams. As more generations collaborate, they and their leaders need deeper insights into differing communication styles and expectations, and greater skill in applying those insights.

Foley observed that since the economic downturn, her consulting firm has seen companies cutting workforce training programs. As a result, younger workers find fewer opportunities to have apprentice-like experiences with older, more experienced staff members. “Companies need to make training a priority again, to find it in their budgets, to offer people the opportunity to learn on the job,” Foley commented. And as research has shown, the bulk of development — up to 90 percent — takes place on-the-job, through coaching, feedback, work assignments, mentoring, job shadowing, etc.

Which introduces the third component of a robust internal development program: effective training methodology and content.

An essential component of your talent pipeline is training that achieves the desired result. Training managers have struggled for decades with the shortcomings of classroom-based training. For a time, online self-guided training, which could be conducted on the learner’s own schedule, in the learner’s work environment, seemed to be the answer. However, neither type of training — classroom-based or online — has proven to produce adequate results in developing the suite of skills leaders and key contributors need. It’s easy to conclude that training is a waste of money. But high-performing organizations see past the budget issue to the true problem: a mismatch of training modalities to the type of development needed.

“Spend that time and budget working on a live simulation or a conversation, or practicing skills on one another or within teams, always giving feedback. Or use mentors in the learners’ environment,” recommended Krajewski, placing the emphasis on face-to-face interactions within the work environment where those skills will be put to use. It makes sense that perfecting leadership and other skills requires human interaction.

Not only is effective training important to preparing skilled key contributors and leaders-to-be — it builds loyalty and engagement, and ensures high-potential candidates are available whenever positions requiring their skills open up.

Engage managers in employee development

To truly create a development-centric culture, managers at all levels of an organization must be held accountable for development. That means: allowing time in their workload to devote to employee development; assigning them goals and/or competencies related to employee development; and measuring their efforts at developing others as part of their own performance management, with appropriate rewards for their successes.

An organization must provide the systems and tools that facilitate a company-wide culture of development. Melanie Rydalch emphasized HR’s need for visibility into managers’ planning, in order to ensure that appropriate development is taking place. Using their talent management software, her HR department is able to run reports to see employees' development plans, and to catch where an individual’s performance gaps may not be adequately addressed.

Michelle Reid was the project leader in SunRype’s search for, selection and implementation of a talent management system. “We were able to connect our people in different time zones, increase dashboard reporting, and improve our results. It’s become a true leadership and coaching tool for us.”

Interviewees also described a variety of tools for talent assessment that support employee development, such as career discussion guides, employee profiles, and the Nine Box Grid ― a model used to plot performance based on two dimensions. Assessment that focuses on individual employee's performance and their potential can help leaders fully understand the people they manage. That in turn, leads to providing the development opportunities and challenging “stretch” assignments that encourage employee loyalty to the organization and ensure the right talent is in place when needed.

Recruit for skills and fit ― with new tools

CEOs across all industries report increasing difficulty in hiring. To counter that trend, several interviewees emphasized the importance of new approaches to recruiting.

Henryk Krajewski spoke of the need for a strong employer brand and employee value proposition — which he defined as “what we stand for; what we offer employees.” He continued, “Many companies today should be thinking strategically and putting time, money and effort into defining a compelling employee value proposition that closely matches the brand promise, and jointly pushing them out into the market.”

Social media has also increased in importance as a means of reaching potential hires. “You have to know exactly what you want, where that talent pool lies, and use all the social media you can to reach them. Then, be very creative to capture people's desire to want to know more,” recommends Michelle Reid.

David Creelman encourages organizations to recognize the importance of the role of sourcing manager in building connections with potential candidates. “It’s a different role than recruiting, which is very transaction-oriented,” Creelman commented.

Once HR has netted potential hires for open or anticipated positions, the way they woo them must change. More potential hires now come from the Millennial generational cohort, bringing new expectations.

Molly Foley said, “In our focus groups with younger people, we’ve asked what types of recruitment processes engage their interest. Their answer? They want a hands-on experience so they can determine their fit with the culture of a work environment. And if it requires a move, they need to experience the community, too.” Foley recommends that companies involve their Millennial staff members in recruiting — sending them to career fairs for example. When younger prospective hires visit for interviews, “Connect them with young professionals with similar interests. Plug them into the experience of the community through the eyes of someone of similar age and lifestyle.” She suggests that these “ambassadors” come from line functions, rather than HR.

And getting a good fit in terms of both skills and culture is critical. Tom Callam said he builds his recruiting process around stated firm values and traits required for specific functions. “When we recruit you, it’s based on the same traits on which you’ll be appraised,” stated Callam. So performance appraisals and recruiting processes and forms need to be linked and in sync. Ideally the same set of competencies and skills should be included in the job description, job requisition and performance appraisal forms, ensuring you're hiring the right people at the outset, then further developing their skills on the job.

Finally, thought-leaders agree that in today’s talent marketplace, you’re unlikely to find yourself in a position of over-hiring. “If you find good talent, you hire it,” said Tom Callam.

Engage managers in recruiting and hiring

Ultimately, the key to an effective talent pipeline is effective collaboration between the HR department and hiring managers. If filling open positions is taking too long, consider what is slowing down the process. “Very often the block is not something HR can solve — it’s the hiring managers who are slow in responding, getting interviews scheduled, or making decisions,” observed Creelman. And sometimes it goes even further than that. Often managers don’t inform HR of hiring needs until they actually have a position to fill. So talent managers are trying to see around corners and beyond the horizon to solve talent gaps before they can harm the organization. Engaging managers in the entire process, from workforce planning to actual recruiting and hiring is critical.

Then, it’s important to hold hiring managers accountable for filling jobs as quickly as possible. According to Creelman, “It should be self-evident that filling positions is a priority. Hiring managers will hurt their organization’s financial results if they are not fulfilling their end of the bargain.” Managers need to be engaged in and held accountable for their role in the recruiting and hiring process, as well as assisted in balancing their workload while they fulfill it.

Get support from technology

Those interviewed agreed on the importance of supporting HR practices with the right technology. Creelman summed up the view of the group: “You’ve got to be good at recruiting, you’ve got to be good at developing, you’ve got to be good at performance management. It seems crazy to think you can be good at it all without decent technology. It’s almost like: can you be a good CFO if you don’t have a decent accounting system?”

The bottom line

With individuals, departments, and corporate strategy aligned around shared goals, CEOs need not fear talent gaps. By creating a development-focused culture and adopting effective recruiting strategies, the right candidates with the right skills will be right where they should be — in your talent pipeline.

Read how others are building a talent pipeline

SNC-Lavalin O&M successfully build bench strength and a solid talent pipeline by using talent pool based succession planning and other talent management best practices.


Read Part 2: How to engage Millennial employees (and others) and Part 3: Earning your top talent’s loyalty

Success with Talent Management made easy. Experience it for yourself.

Free Trial Book Live Demo Product Tour