As a people leader, you’re likely already familiar with what a talent pipeline is and why it’s critical to organizational success. The efficiency and effectiveness of succession planning, employee engagement and even overall company growth depend heavily on your ability to source, identify and develop high-potential employees to fill critical roles within the business.
But as the modern workplace continues to evolve and change, even the most tried-and-true approach to managing your talent pipeline can become outdated quickly. Let’s discuss contemporary tactics you can use to evolve your talent pipeline strategy.
What is a talent pipeline?
Let’s start with a brief definition.
A talent pipeline is a group of prospective job candidates who have the skills and qualifications to fill current or future job openings. The primary purpose of a talent pipeline is to cut down on the time associated with sourcing and recruiting right-fit talent. Since you already have a database of qualified candidates to pull from, your recruitment team doesn’t have to start from square one each time a new opening arises.
Talent pipelines can and should include both external and internal candidates.
What does a modern talent pipeline look like?
Talent pipelines exist to connect candidates from your talent pool to current and future job openings — typically for roles that require more planning or a more advanced skill set. Your talent pipeline should be viewed as more than a list of names — it’s a vehicle for engaging with prospective job candidates. Consider it an opportunity to cultivate the highest-potential candidates to step in — and step up — at a moment’s notice.
Your talent pipeline is delivering the people — the leadership, creativity and innovation — that define your organization. The importance of a robust talent pipeline extends beyond business strategy. When your talent lines up with organizational goals and needs, it can drive business growth and agility far into the future.
A modern talent pipeline can include:
- Intentional and ongoing collaboration between managers and direct reports to understand employee career aspirations and guide them toward the relevant development opportunities that will get them there.
- Established training, development and education programs that are strategically designed to equip employees with the resources needed to develop and grow in-demand skills required for advancement.
- A well-thought-out succession planning strategy to increase the efficiency and efficacy of your talent pipeline.
- Easy access to upskilling and reskilling opportunities that accommodate varying employee schedules and don’t add any financial burden to learners.
- A strategy for assessing employee skill sets to identify current candidate strengths and growth opportunities.
- Intentional focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) as part of your talent pipeline strategy.
How to build a strong talent pipeline
If you already have a talent pipeline as part of your recruitment strategy, you likely have some existing tactics in place to grow it. However, it’s important to continuously revisit your approach to make sure that your efforts are actually generating the outcomes that you want to achieve.
Whether you’re still in the beginning stages of development or seeking to improve your existing efforts, let’s look at a few ways that you can enhance your talent pipeline for improved results:
Prioritize hard-to-fill positions
Certain positions are more challenging to fill than others — especially ones that require a niche skill set or many years of experience in a particular field. It’s important to always be aware of which positions are the hardest to fill, and aim to fill your talent pipeline with candidates that have the qualifications to take on these roles.
For example, senior leadership positions are notoriously challenging to fill, which is why many companies aim to identify high-potential existing employees early on for their talent pipeline. You can work directly with these individuals (and their managers) to determine what type of learning and development (L&D) is required to bring their skills and competencies to a level where they can take on the role.
With this proactive approach, you have one or multiple qualified individuals ready to step in before a vacancy even arises. This is the main idea behind succession planning.
Develop employees from within
Hiring externally is not a silver bullet solution. Sourcing from your existing workforce will strengthen your pipeline, but you need targeted development opportunities in place to do this effectively. Think strategically about what learning options are needed to equip your employees with the skills required to take on future roles.
Get hiring managers involved
Whether you’re hiring internally, externally, or both, it’s necessary to work closely with hiring managers to ensure that they’re familiar with the meaning of a talent pipeline and know how to use it to their advantage. Promote collaboration between the recruitment team and hiring managers, allowing both parties to take a look at candidates in the pipeline to determine whether the number and quality of candidates are where they need to be. Don’t hesitate to adjust your current recruitment practices or implement new ones if the well is starting to dry.
Don’t overlook your passive candidate pipeline
Even if someone isn’t actively looking for a job, you can (and should) still include them in your talent pipeline if they have skills and experience relevant to roles at your organization. While these candidates may be slightly more challenging to recruit, they’re still viable prospects who can be nurtured as part of your recruitment marketing process. It’s not uncommon for passive candidates to leave their employers if a better opportunity arises.
Engage with the talent in your pipeline
Not engaging with your talent pipeline or ignoring engagement is a big deterrent for candidates. Who doesn’t want to know that they are being considered for future openings? Incorporating good communication practices shows you value the people you’re putting in your talent pipeline. For external candidates who are passively looking, this practice helps keep your company top-of-mind if they eventually re-enter the job market.
Best practices for effective talent pipeline management
A strong talent pipeline is not static. The skills and competencies that are most valuable to your business today could be entirely different just one year from now. In the same way that your greater people strategy should evolve alongside the needs of your business, so does the way you approach managing a talent pipeline.
Here are some talent pipeline management tactics that will help you do this effectively:
Align your talent pipeline strategy with broader business goals
Deciding which candidates enter your talent pipeline depends on a variety of factors that are unique to your business, but one thing holds true for nearly every company: the talent within your pipeline should always be driven by organizational objectives.
For example, let’s say your organization is rolling out a company-wide software migration next year. Do you have the right people in place to pull this off? If not, are there candidates in your talent pipeline who can rise to the challenge — or could do so with some strategic training and upskilling?
As you review and forecast your business goals for the next few years, fill your pool with candidates who have the learning potential or expertise to match your needs. If your company is prioritizing improving diversity within leadership, make sure your pipeline reflects the diversity you want to see among management as well.
Integrate your talent pipeline strategy with existing L&D efforts
It’s likely that a significant portion of your talent pipeline is made up of existing employees. This is a good thing: by the time these job candidates enter the pipeline, they should be primed and nearly ready to fill an open position if one becomes available. But this doesn’t just happen by chance. Those employees must have already engaged in upskilling, reskilling or other professional development activities to get to that point.
L&D serves a critical function for nurturing employees over time, with the goal of eventually funneling them into your talent pipeline. This means it’s even more important that you’re constantly working to evolve your L&D strategy to address future talent needs.
For example, let’s say your company is anticipating an overwhelming need for Nurse Practitioners over the next 18-24 months, but your current talent pipeline is lacking candidates with the required skill sets. That’s your indicator to start looking at existing talent, understand their abilities and determine if your L&D program has the content and coursework required to upskill or reskill those employees sufficiently.
Invest in the right talent management software
Working in spreadsheets and legacy talent software is a surefire way to lose your competitive edge when it comes to managing your talent pipeline. Technology by itself doesn’t guarantee that your pipeline will be effective, but it does help to maximize efficiency and eliminate the need for manual work, so your team can spend more time filling positions, and less time sorting through spreadsheets.
Using metrics to shape your talent pipeline strategy
Design trackable metrics that will help you to understand whether or not your current pipeline is contributing to the business outcomes you set out to achieve. Here are some questions to consider:
- Is your organization consistently reaching its talent objectives?
- Have improvements to your talent strategy resulted in greater efficiency across hiring, onboarding and promotional practices?
- What is the rate of pool-to-hire talent through your pipeline?
Answering these questions will show you the successes and opportunities to update your current process.
The power of proactive talent pipeline planning
Building and maintaining your talent pipeline is one of the most intentional — and necessary — exercises a company can do to stay ahead of the global skills shortage.
Plot your organization’s business strategy and talent goals for the upcoming years. Assign people who can lead those charges, and look to your talent pipeline for several back-ups should others move up or move on. If you’re not seeing the right candidates you need, look more closely — perhaps other candidates might work well with more training and education. Connect with hiring managers who may have suggestions or look outside for specific skills. And once you’ve got the right people placed in your talent pipeline, let them know.