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Is The Talent Pipeline Broken?

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Layoffs on the one hand—record job openings on the other. Why can't we seem to close the gap?

Walmart, McDonald’s and Roku are the latest to join a steady stream of layoffs since late last year. Respected media outlets CNN and Bloomberg predict more layoffs to come, particularly in manufacturing, transportation and warehousing, and information/media industries

Meanwhile, seasoned recruiters and senior executives across industries continue lamenting the lack of available talent. They tell me that access to the talent they need—both in quality and quantity—is a major impediment to achieving their objectives.

Layoffs on the one hand. Record job openings on the other. Market fundamentals tell us simply to connect supply and demand to close the gap. Yet today, both situations co-exist and persist. Economic theory can’t solve the talent equation. The talent pipeline appears to be broken.

Ensuring a ready supply of qualified talent is HR’s most critical objective. Still, maintaining a high-quality leadership and talent pipeline is an important responsibility for all managers, not just HR. It’s a highly strategic endeavor that requires high-level attention, even when the needed talent is at the lowest level of the organization. Bottom line: when the supply isn’t ready, all aspects of business performance suffer.

I advise executives to take three actions to address a broken pipeline:

1. Take a hard look at the capabilities you need to achieve your objectives – at least annually.

A healthy talent pipeline feeds both immediate and future needs. It also addresses both strategic and operating requirements. The former is future focused. The latter contains the skills you need most to manage daily activities. These highlight the organization’s critical functions and roles.

• Where and how quickly will you find appropriate successors for critical roles?

• To what extent will existing systems or networks fill the pipeline?

2. Address multiple parts of the pipeline.

Strengthen your pipeline by connecting pipeline development actions to specific business outcomes. Diverse talent is a core business objective for many of my client organizations. I listened recently to a panel of search experts lament the lack of diversity in the candidate pool for CEO roles.

If the talent pool is not the size and shape you want for the future, look further upstream. For example, if not enough BIPOC candidates are ready to take on the top job – as the panelists said – consider what you are doing to accelerate their development. Internally, embrace a broader perspective about how people learn. Externally, look beyond current relationships and sources or take a more active role via structured programs and education to feed your pipeline at critical career stages.

• What systems or networks will you tap to increase the number of qualified candidates in your pool at each career stage?

• In what ways are you actively connecting with and developing the people you want to see in your talent pool?

• To what extent are your internal pipeline development practices connected to specific business outcomes and timelines?

3. Take a chance.

Typically, leaders hire the people they deem most ‘ready’ for the role. On the surface, this seems prudent for both the hiring manager and the organization. After all, they reason, these folks hit the ground running and accelerate progress. Often, the new hires do just that, reinforcing both theory and hiring decision, thus perpetuating the practice.

However, I think this is a trap. A self-fulfilling prophecy that impedes long-term progress. A laser-focus on the ‘no-risk hire’ reinforces stereotypes and does little to fix a broken pipeline. Instead take a chance. Better yet, take several chances: encourage your team to think beyond the conventional career path and consider candidates from a wider pool of experience. Your business benefits from unconventional thinking and people who want to succeed as much as you do.

• To what extent do you disrupt the ‘ready’ mindset in yourself and your direct reports?

• In what ways will you deliberately support the success of unconventional hires?

• What steps will you take to shift the nature and shape of your pipeline?

No matter what business you’re in, you simply cannot execute strategy without people. A broken pipeline for talent disrupts performance across all aspects of the business. Rather than returning to status quo – or limping along with insufficient or not-quite-right talent – address multiple parts of the pipeline, simultaneously.

Then take a chance.

To ensure a ready supply of talent, you need a supply that’s ready. Savvy CEOs disrupt the typical ‘ready’ mindset to tap and cultivate new sources of talent value and address their broken pipelines.


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