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  • Dr. Jeff Doolittle

Talent Pipeline 201: Improving Your Position

Today’s Reality

Many organizations struggle with having ready now talent, but why should we even bother spending time trying to improve a company’s internal talent pipeline given the realities of our world today? Industries and companies are changing faster than talent can be identified and developed. Also, we do not even know what types of jobs to prepare our employees for in the future.


A talent pipeline is a pool of candidates who are qualified to assume open positions that have been newly created or vacated.


In a recent article titled Emerging Technologies’ Impact on Society & Work in 2030 (Source) by the Institute for the Future (IFTF) “a panel of 20 tech, business, and academic experts from around the world estimate that 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet.

You might be thinking to yourself no one knows the future for sure. So let’s look at today’s situation in your company (if it has been around 10yrs or more). How many job titles exist in your company today that didn’t exist 5-10 years ago? I expect that you will be able to think of some. One estimate from the World Economic Forum (Source) in the article titled Human Capital Outlook suggests that “65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in entirely new job types that aren’t on our radar yet”.

Let's take a serious look at the pace of change within business today. The pace of change is only getting faster and having broader impacts. When facilitating workshops on the topic of change, I often ask leaders to think back and recount their company changes on a timeline. Each time I see an increase in the frequency of changes closer to the current date, some of this could be the tendency to weigh recent events more heavily than earlier events but even excluding a reasonable error of attribution leaders will agree there has been an increase. Today this stems from rapid advances in the fields of robotics, driverless transport, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, advanced materials, and genomics. These changes are driving more change.

A standard tool most companies use to identify and develop their talent pipeline for the future is succession planning. The current state of most company’s succession planning is not good. According to the Corporate Executive Board organizations fail to identify 50% of their positions with pre-identified successors. Executives have the lowest succession plan success rate, filling only 28% of jobs with pre-identified successors. I would expect to find many contributing factors for these poor results that vary by company, but one core, common, and critical factor that impacts every company is the variability with talent development. The reality is that talent does not always deliver results after investments are made into development. In the article (Source) Getting More from Your Training Programs, by Aaron De Smet, Monica Mcgurk, and Elizabeth Schwartz of McKinsey & Co. found that only 25% of respondents to a 2010 survey found that training improved employees’ performance.

Also, there's a fundamental shift underway within the employee population from traditional company-based employment to one of the freelancers and a gig economy. The 2017 Freelancing in America study by the Freelancers Union and Upwork (Source) estimated that nearly 57.3 million Americans – or 36 percent of the nation's workforce – are now freelancing, most of whom do so by choice (63 percent). This situation makes retaining a growing part of the economy a challenging proposition (check out my recent article Employee Retention 201: Improving Your Position for some ideas).

Talent Pipeline Changes and Disruption Needed

There are lots of reasons, both internal and external, that may make it seem like we should walk away from planning and managing our talent pipeline. What we need now is a change to our talent pipeline processes. When I think about the extent of the difference required I think about the disruption the Amazon Go Store is having on the retail industry (if you do not know about the Amazon Go Store check this link out).

Strategic Workforce Planning Changes

One change that is needed is for strategic workforce planning to become a formal part of a company’s strategic planning and talent planning process. Strategic workforce planning is a repeatable, measurable, business process that helps execute strategic initiatives in a time-sensitive fashion. The focus is on strategic management for roles that most significantly impact the company strategies. Inputs are both quantitative and qualitative workforce measures from both current and future state perspectives. The outcomes are people strategies embedded into the company’s strategic initiatives. Companies are changing too rapidly, and it becomes too easy for all leaders to get behind and out of sync with the direction of the company without formally embedding strategic workforce planning into the company's strategic planning processes.

Environmental Scanning Changes

Likely, the single most value-added activity for strategic and talent planning processes is constant environmental scanning. Industries and the labor market are changing so fast it is no longer an option for companies not to be paying attention. Environmental scanning is a systematic way to identify and monitor trends that will impact your business and the workforce. Internal company (employee and organization) and external (supply and demand) trends and risks identified are assessed for relative impact on the business. This process helps you keep a pulse on the current state but also an eye on the future. Personally, I have found Twitter and LinkedIn to be good sources for helping to keep a constant pulse on external influences.

Critical Role Identification Changes

All jobs are important (if not that is another needed change), but some add more value and create more wealth than others. It is time to take a very thoughtful and methodological approach to identifying your company’s critical roles, so you can forecast and focus your talent plans. It must go beyond the top of the organizational chart. While senior-level roles are essential, they may not be critical. When identifying critical roles consider each positions’ skills value to the customer and company, and skills uniqueness both within the company (bench-strength) and outside the company. When performing this analysis, I also recommend the use of a multivariate rating tool with a broad item scale (1-7) to allow for the most differentiation across roles.

Succession Planning Changes

Succession planning should increase the availability of experienced, capable and diverse talent ensuring the right people in the right jobs now and in the future. Depending on how advanced your company succession planning is, I see a few changes that most companies need to make:

  • Talent functions need to integrate talent acquisition sourcing activities and successor identification processes. Sourcing is aware of the external labor market and can proactively stay connected with passive external candidates that may be able to step into a forecasted succession gap.

  • Talent calibration and development discussions need to shift from competencies and skills to also include specific experiences necessary for the successor role. Experiences will help ensure a higher success rate of identified successors.

  • Talent reviews need to be robust discussions and should take on the same level of rigor as company business plan reviews. When reviewing talent, it is crucial to discuss experience and skills needed to buy, build, and bounce. Too often these talent reviews are an afterthought or get minimal attention.

Process Disruption Needed

There is a real opportunity for disruption of the critical talent processes discussed in this article by using artificial intelligence and machine learning.

dis·rupt (verb) 1. drastically alter or destroy the structure of (something).

For example, if we could write algorithms to mine external sources of information on competencies from benchmarking sites (ex., Saratoga or the Corporate Executive Board), skills from social networking sites (ex., LinkedIn) and talent availability from employment sites (ex., Indeed, or CareerBuilder). Then if we could match the external data with internal data on value and internal bench strength from our enterprise resource planning system (ERP) we could provide leadership a much more accurate and real-time understanding to shape company strategies and tactics.

If companies are going to successfully navigate and thrive in a time of continual innovation and change, they will need to change or disrupt their talent pipeline processes, and in this article, I have tried to outline a few of the areas I believe are most pressing for companies to address. Ultimately, we will need to leverage technology to help us meet the business opportunities created by technology.

Take up the mantle of change. For this is your time.

~Winston Churchill


I want to hear from you with your questions, comments, or ideas about talent pipeline process changes and the disruption needed. Also, if you need help getting started with strategic workforce planning, critical role identification, environmental scanning, or succession planning, I would like to help.

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Hi, I'm Dr. Jeff Doolittle. I'm determined to make your personal and professional goals a reality. My only question is, are you?

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About Dr. Jeff Doolittle

He is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI, and Program Director of online graduate and continuing business education at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Executive leaders who work with Jeff describe him as thoughtful, decisive, intelligent, and collaborative. Jeff is a business executive with over twenty years of talent development and organizational strategy experience working with C-suite leaders in Fortune 100, Forbes top 25 private, for-profit, non-profit, and global companies in many industries.

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