Your future CFO, CMO, or CTO could already be at your company. It might be the mid-level manager who enthusiastically rallies her team to meet tight deadlines, the IT whiz who masters your tech stack after just weeks on the job, or the junior associate who wows clients with exceptional customer service.
But turning these talented individuals into your next C-Suite leaders is a long-term investment that some organizations find difficult to fulfill.
“Leadership development is rarely a day-to-day priority” Jane Stevenson, Vice Chair, Board and CEO Services at Korn Ferry, explains. “It ends up on the back burner until there’s a succession crisis”.
But if you want to ensure the best C-suite pipeline, you need to really connect the dots to identify, cultivate and incubate talent. “It’s easy to say this is an objective but much harder to make it happen,” adds Stevenson.
Do you know how to identify and develop your most promising people at all levels to prepare them for eventual careers in the C-Suite? Here, we run through seven essentials to building a successful C-Suite leadership pipeline.
Seven essentials to build a C-suite leadership pipeline
A robust talent pipeline is not an accident. It’s created through a thoughtful, intentional process requiring buy-in at all levels of leadership.
1 Design your ideal leadership profile
What qualities do your future C-Suite leaders need to have? Start by considering how you define success and failure at your organization. Then use this to think about your ideal leader and the types of characteristics they have.
To help identify these traits, look at both your current C-suite members and other senior leaders in your organization to understand the competencies and experience they have that ensures they will deliver on your business agenda. What are their traits and mindsets – and are there any that are lacking that would be helpful in the future?
As well as looking within your organization, cast the net wider for models of leadership that drive best-in-class business performance. The Korn Ferry holistic and researched Enterprise Leadership Framework, for example, outlines five mindsets and four capabilities that leaders need to simultaneously perform and transform.
2 Identify highest potentials
For organizations seeking to strengthen their leadership pipeline, it is important to zero in on how to quickly and accurately identify people with the potential to fit the leadership profile that you’ve identified.
How can you do this successfully? We know that solely relying on performance or gut instinct can lead to many talented people being overlooked. Having objective assessment criteria is essential for identifying high performers who lack the traditional network at the top and would otherwise be left out of the talent pipeline.
However, we also know that when it comes to identifying high potential talent for top leadership roles, organizations sometimes have a "knowing versus doing" gap. They know they need to be objective, but they fall back on habits like relying on performance or manager opinions. And this may result in a less plentiful supply of leaders in your pipeline for critical executive roles.
3 Consider readiness vs potential
When assessing people for suitability as future C-Suite candidates, it’s important to distinguish between determining potential—those who have the key capabilities or attributes, but who may need additional experiences—and evaluating readiness—those who could step into the C-Suite role immediately if necessary.
People who are more than two years away from a C-Suite appointment should be assessed for their potential to grow into the job. Given sufficient time, those with significant potential, who are viewed as serious contenders, can build needed skills and experiences in conjunction with a development program tailored to building and augmenting the areas that need strengthening.