Building a pipeline of performance

Anna Waters and Katie Eckersley

9 min read

When the external world is transforming at such a rapid pace, organisations that lack the strategic vision, systems and capability will struggle to rapidly respond. As a result, they risk losing both market position and relevance.

Many organisations have leadership structures that reduce their ability to respond and adapt to the changing environment. Compounding this, many workforces lack the necessary clarity that will enable them to deliver operationally and strategically. Instead, they are focused on the urgency and demand of their operational ‘business as usual’ activity and solving problems in the moment.
The Leadership Pipeline enables an organisation to advance both their operational and strategic priorities by aligning the capability, systems and strategy.

The Leadership Pipeline provides a framework that clarifies an organisation’s performance expectations of each different layer of leadership in relation to both core business deliverables and key strategic priorities. 

The Leadership Pipeline involves four to seven layers (depending on the size of the organisation), including individual contributors (or ‘leaders of self’), leaders of others, leaders of leaders, leaders of function, leaders of business, leaders of group, and leaders of enterprise. 

Many organisations have leadership structures that reduce their ability to respond and adapt to the changing environment. Compounding this, many workforces lack the necessary clarity that will enable them to deliver operationally and strategically. Instead, they are focused on the urgency and demand of their operational ‘business as usual’ activity and solving problems in the moment. The Leadership Pipeline enables an organisation to advance both their operational and strategic priorities by aligning the capability, systems and strategy.

The Leadership Pipeline provides a framework that clarifies an organisation’s performance expectations of each different layer of leadership in relation to both core business deliverables and key strategic priorities. 

The Leadership Pipeline involves four to seven layers (depending on the size of the organisation), including individual contributors (or ‘leaders of self’), leaders of others, leaders of leaders, leaders of function, leaders of business, leaders of group, and leaders of enterprise. 

It provides both the architecture and mechanics for allocating performance responsibility throughout the organisation and supports timely and appropriate decision-making with accountability.

Decisions and accountability are often delegated upwards, with ‘lower’ layers of leadership disempowered to lead. In the Leadership Pipeline, every person is a leader and no single layer of the pipeline is more important than any other. Each layer of leadership contributes an essential, unique and important value to an organisation, but each is significantly different in terms of its focus, values and time horizon. 

The Leadership Pipeline is a mechanism to transform how people see their role, build an organisational people architecture, and translate strategy. Transforming busyness into strategically-aligned action enables an organisation to cascade their strategy, increase capability, agility and execution.

It provides both the architecture and mechanics for allocating performance responsibility throughout the organisation and supports timely and appropriate decision-making with accountability.

Decisions and accountability are often delegated upwards, with ‘lower’ layers of leadership disempowered to lead. In the Leadership Pipeline, every person is a leader and no single layer of the pipeline is more important than any other. Each layer of leadership contributes an essential, unique and important value to an organisation, but each is significantly different in terms of its focus, values and time horizon. 

leadership-pipeline

The questions below demonstrate the required mindset shift at each layer of the Leadership Pipeline. While people at each layer can and do think in different time horizons, the time frames represented in figure 3 show the primary focus for thinking at that layer.


Figure 3

The questions below demonstrate the required mindset shift at each layer of the Leadership Pipeline. While people at each layer can and do think in different time horizons, the time frames represented in figure 3 show the primary focus for thinking at that layer.


Figure 3

The questions below demonstrate the required mindset shift at each layer of the Leadership Pipeline. While people at each layer can and do think in different time horizons, the time frames represented in figure 3 show the primary focus for thinking at that layer.

Figure 3. Focus and thinking for each layer

The questions below demonstrate the required mindset shift at each layer of the Leadership Pipeline. While people at each layer can and do think in different time horizons, the time frames represented in figure 3 show the primary focus for thinking at that layer.


Figure 3

leadership-pipeline
leadership-pipeline
leadership-pipeline
leadership-pipeline

Beyond defining performance at each leadership layer of the organisation, the Leadership Pipeline encourages proactive talent management through the early identification and development of individuals with both the desire and potential to transition to the next layer of leadership. 

The Leadership Pipeline infrastructure prepares the individual for a successful transition to their new role by providing clarity around the performance expectations and shift in leadership focus that will be required.

Individual Contributor (Leader of Self)

Individual Contributor (Leader of Self)

Individual Contributor (Leader of Self)

Leader of Others

Leader of Others

Leader of Others

Leader of leaders

Leader of leaders

Leader of leaders

Leader of Function

Leader of Function

Leader of Function

Leader of Business

Leader of Business

Leader of Business

Leader of Group

Leader of Group

Leader of Group

Leader of Enterprise

Leader of Enterprise

Leader of Enterprise

Enabling individual leadership

Enabling individual leadership

Enabling individual leadership

Steve Drotter, author of the Performance Pipeline and the Leadership Pipeline, reports that up to 50% of leaders aren’t working at the right layer. Some organisations might interpret this as individual ‘performance problems’, however organisations function as an ecosystem. If one person isn’t working at the appropriate leadership layer, the person at the next layer often finds themselves ‘diving down’ to fill the void rather than addressing the cause of the problem. In such a scenario, the individual not performing at layer is likely to resent the leader stepping down into their space, interpreting their actions as ‘micro-managing’ rather than understanding the performance gap. 

A common reason for leaders not performing effectively is that they have not transitioned into the new layer. The challenges often start when they were working in their previous role and they considered taking a promotion into the next layer. Individuals rarely have an accurate understanding of what their manager actually does and often a biased perception of the success with which they perform the role. It follows that when they consider applying for a promotion to a more senior leadership role, they are likely to have a distorted view of what’s expected. If successful in securing the promotion opportunity, many aren’t sure where they need to focus, how to handle trade-off decisions or what they need to start, stop and continue doing. 

Steve Drotter, author of the Performance Pipeline and the Leadership Pipeline, reports that up to 50% of leaders aren’t working at the right layer. Some organisations might interpret this as individual ‘performance problems’, however organisations function as an ecosystem. 

If one person isn’t working at the appropriate leadership layer, the person at the next layer often finds themselves ‘diving down’ to fill the void rather than addressing the cause of the problem. In such a scenario, the individual not performing at layer is likely to resent the leader stepping down into their space, interpreting their actions as ‘micro-managing’ rather than understanding the performance gap. 

A common reason for leaders not performing effectively is that they have not transitioned into the new layer. The challenges often start when they were working in their previous role and they considered taking a promotion into the next layer. Individuals rarely have an accurate understanding of what their manager actually does and often a biased perception of the success with which they perform the role. 

It follows that when they consider applying for a promotion to a more senior leadership role, they are likely to have a distorted view of what’s expected. If successful in securing the promotion opportunity, many aren’t sure where they need to focus, how to handle trade-off decisions or what they need to start, stop and continue doing.

Agility is more achievable with the mechanics in place to take an integrated approach in response to disruption, emerging technologies and new strategies.

The individual experience of such a transition can undermine personal and team confidence as the new leader ‘gets up to speed’ in their new role. For many individual contributors transitioning to a leader of others position, they are moving from being regarded as a ‘technical expert’ or high performer within their area to a completely new role and function within the organisation. This transition is enormous. As a high performer who personally delivers work and is recognised for it, the skillset shift to planning work, enabling others to succeed, and recognising their teams’ successes and vulnerabilities can be extremely challenging. This is on top of the identity shift – from being ‘one of the team’ to being the team leader and dealing with the social repercussions of such a change can have a significant impact on the individuals involved. In small or rural communities, this identity shift is amplified. Leaders struggling to make the transition, and who previously identified as a high performer, feel reluctant to speak up and seek guidance from others who may have similarly struggled, not wanting to appear ‘unworthy’ of the promotion opportunity.

The Leadership Pipeline enables an organisation to provide clarity on required values, focus and time horizon for each leadership layer, develop people so they’re ready to make the shift and then to support them through the transition and consolidation of their performance in their new role. 

Senior leaders in the organisation can feel confident that they have a pipeline of talent who are developed and ready to make a ‘turn’ and move to the next layer of leadership – a strategic approach to succession planning. In such an environment, individuals have visibility and understanding of the available development pathways and recognise the organisation’s commitment to their ongoing performance and development.

The individual experience of such a transition can undermine personal and team confidence as the new leader ‘gets up to speed’ in their new role. For many individual contributors transitioning to a leader of others position, they are moving from being regarded as a ‘technical expert’ or high performer within their area to a completely new role and function within the organisation. This transition is enormous. 

As a high performer who personally delivers work and is recognised for it, the skillset shift to planning work, enabling others to succeed, and recognising their teams’ successes and vulnerabilities can be extremely challenging. 

This is on top of the identity shift – from being ‘one of the team’ to being the team leader and dealing with the social repercussions of such a change can have a significant impact on the individuals involved. In small or rural communities, this identity shift is amplified. 

Leaders struggling to make the transition, and who previously identified as a high performer, feel reluctant to speak up and seek guidance from others who may have similarly struggled, not wanting to appear ‘unworthy’ of the promotion opportunity.

The Leadership Pipeline enables an organisation to provide clarity on required values, focus and time horizon for each leadership layer, develop people so they’re ready to make the shift and then to support them through the transition and consolidation of their performance in their new role. 

Senior leaders in the organisation can feel confident that they have a pipeline of talent who are developed and ready to make a ‘turn’ and move to the next layer of leadership – a strategic approach to succession planning. In such an environment, individuals have visibility and understanding of the available development pathways and recognise the organisation’s commitment to their ongoing performance and development.

Enabling organisational systems 

Enabling organisational systems 

Enabling organisational systems 

Many organisations have developed their operating structure, which is the intention and structure for how the organisation functions. The mechanics of how that happens in practice is often quite different, with informal networks delivering cross-functional collaboration. Often, this is intangible and highly variable, and so how work does (or doesn’t) get done or how decisions are made is invisible. Organisations often struggle to establish effective and consistent systems to make their business work. Just as the Leadership Pipeline can enhance the performance of leaders, the principles can equally be applied to governance mechanisms, ensuring effective and accountable performance systems and group decision making.

The Leadership Pipeline establishes a ‘people architecture’ and leadership language to embed clarity and performance at every layer of the organisation. This shared language and infrastructure effectively recalibrates the organisation, aligning purpose, strategy, governance and structure, whilst simultaneously supporting employees to understand and appreciate how individual roles and teams contribute to the organisation. Such clarity and shared purpose assists in connecting silos and builds capability to respond to challenges. Regenerative organisations need a level of confidence that their leaders can handle the current and future emerging challenges.

An integrated and aligned People and Culture approach that delivers directly on the organisation’s strategy seems increasingly important in a highly competitive market where resources are stretched. The Leadership Pipeline provides a people architecture that enables every aspect of the employee experience to be connected and aligned with the organisation’s strategy. From the employee’s experience of recruitment and selection, onboarding, professional development, performance management, and succession planning, every person benefits from understanding where the organisation is heading, and, importantly, how their specific role contributes to the organisation achieving successes. Each stage of the employee engagement cycle offers a unique opportunity to embed organisational leadership and performance expectation clarity. 

Many organisations have developed their operating structure, which is the intention and structure for how the organisation functions. The mechanics of how that happens in practice is often quite different, with informal networks delivering cross-functional collaboration. 

Often, this is intangible and highly variable, and so how work does (or doesn’t) get done or how decisions are made is invisible. 

Organisations often struggle to establish effective and consistent systems to make their business work. Just as the Leadership Pipeline can enhance the performance of leaders, the principles can equally be applied to governance mechanisms, ensuring effective and accountable performance systems and group decision making.

The Leadership Pipeline establishes a ‘people architecture’ and leadership language to embed clarity and performance at every layer of the organisation. 

This shared language and infrastructure effectively recalibrates the organisation, aligning purpose, strategy, governance and structure, whilst simultaneously supporting employees to understand and appreciate how individual roles and teams contribute to the organisation. Such clarity and shared purpose assists in connecting silos and builds capability to respond to challenges. 

Regenerative organisations need a level of confidence that their leaders can handle the current and future emerging challenges.

An integrated and aligned People and Culture approach that delivers directly on the organisation’s strategy seems increasingly important in a highly competitive market where resources are stretched. 

The Leadership Pipeline provides a people architecture that enables every aspect of the employee experience to be connected and aligned with the organisation’s strategy. 

From the employee’s experience of recruitment and selection, onboarding, professional development, performance management, and succession planning, every person benefits from understanding where the organisation is heading, and, importantly, how their specific role contributes to the organisation achieving successes. 

Each stage of the employee engagement cycle offers a unique opportunity to embed organisational leadership and performance expectation clarity. 

leadership-pipeline
leadership-pipeline

Enabling organisational strategy 

Enabling organisational strategy 

Enabling organisational strategy 

One of the key responsibilities for an executive team is to develop the organisation’s strategy and then to effectively oversee its execution. Organisational strategies are often communicated through a large group ‘launch’ event or an executive roadshow. While this might inform the workforce of the existence of the strategy, it rarely engages them at a level where they understand specifically how their individual role and their team’s roles contribute to the achievement of strategic objectives. Without this context, employees can struggle to translate their organisation’s strategy into the required individual behaviour change in their daily tasks.

An organisational strategy needs to be framed so that every person in the business understands it, makes aligned decisions and takes appropriate action in their role.

In a very busy work environment with competing priorities and limited resources, individuals often feel ‘stretched’ and unsure as to where to focus their efforts. The urgency of delivering the core operational functions often becomes the primary focus with more strategic initiatives taking a ‘back seat’. In such organisational environments, the Leadership Pipeline is particularly beneficial, providing a mechanism to embed both operational and strategic agendas as equal priorities in the performance plan of every individual
team member. 

It’s important to make strategy relevant and meaningful for every person in the organisation so that people can see, hear and understand their role in relation to the strategy. If this is achieved, every person in the organisation (or at least the majority) are pulling in the same direction with every decision, action and interaction working towards delivering on the shared priorities.

Organisations talk about ‘turning the ship’ – an overwhelming and seemingly impossible task. Taking a bottom-up approach to aligning the workforce to strategic priorities is more like a swarm of bees moving in unison towards a goal. Rather than trying to turn a big ship, within the swarm each bee knows where they need to go, what they need to do and works with the rest of the hive to deliver. In this way, agility is more achievable with the mechanics in place to take an integrated approach in response to disruption, emerging technologies and new strategies. Organisations who can achieve this shift move from perceiving and responding to change as an event to managing ‘change as usual’. 

In a very busy work environment with competing priorities and limited resources, individuals often feel ‘stretched’ and unsure as to where to focus their efforts. 

The urgency of delivering the core operational functions often becomes the primary focus with more strategic initiatives taking a ‘back seat’. In such organisational environments, the Leadership Pipeline is particularly beneficial, providing a mechanism to embed both operational and strategic agendas as equal priorities in the performance plan of every individual team member. 

It’s important to make strategy relevant and meaningful for every person in the organisation so that people can see, hear and understand their role in relation to the strategy. If this is achieved, every person in the organisation (or at least the majority) are pulling in the same direction with every decision, action and interaction working towards delivering on the shared priorities.

Organisations talk about ‘turning the ship’ – an overwhelming and seemingly impossible task. Taking a bottom-up approach to aligning the workforce to strategic priorities is more like a swarm of bees moving in unison towards a goal. 

Rather than trying to turn a big ship, within the swarm each bee knows where they need to go, what they need to do and works with the rest of the hive to deliver. In this way, agility is more achievable with the mechanics in place to take an integrated approach in response to disruption, emerging technologies and new strategies. 

Organisations who can achieve this shift move from perceiving and responding to change as an event to managing ‘change as usual’. 

Organisations who embrace ‘change as usual’ expect and embrace change as an opportunity for response, growth and performance rather than as a cause of distraction, resistance and fatigue.

Case study - Leadership Pipeline implementation

Case study - Leadership Pipeline implementation

Case study - Leadership Pipeline implementation

Context and objectives 

In 2017, a Queensland public hospital and health service faced significant population growth and high rates of complex and chronic health conditions in a population with challenging socio-economic demographics and lifestyle factors.

The health service was embarking upon significant organisational change including developing a Master Plan for a significant new hospital build and, in the shorter term, transitioning from a paper-based medical record to an online integrated electronic medical records system. These initiatives needed to be delivered alongside a new organisational strategic plan, while the service continued to deliver safe, quality care to the community. The new Chief Executive identified that successfully achieving such ambitious objectives would require all 3500 people to be positively engaged in a cultural and leadership transformation.

The evidence-based link between effective leadership and patient outcomes generated engagement in focusing on leadership as a key factor in the success of the organisation1.

The health service utilised an evidence-based framework, the Leadership Pipeline, to clarify the leadership expectations, align performance with the new strategic direction and to embed a new approach to leadership, performance and development across the service. The process provided an opportunity to shift the health service’s culture by engaging leaders of all levels and disciplines in clinical and non-clinical settings to define what excellent leadership looks like at the health service. At the outset, the program shifted how people saw leadership, with the emerging tagline for the program based on the concept that everyone is a leader – whether they’re leading themselves, patient care, a team, a service, a division or the whole health service. This shifted the conversation from blame to engagement, ownership and empowerment. 

The health service was embarking upon significant organisational change including developing a Master Plan for a significant new hospital build and, in the shorter term, transitioning from a paper-based medical record to an online integrated electronic medical records system. These initiatives needed to be delivered alongside a new organisational strategic plan, while the service continued to deliver safe, quality care to the community. The new Chief Executive identified that successfully achieving such ambitious objectives would require all 3500 people to be positively engaged in a cultural and leadership transformation.

The evidence-based link between effective leadership and patient outcomes generated engagement in focusing on leadership as a key factor in the success of the organisation1.

The health service utilised an evidence-based framework, the Leadership Pipeline, to clarify the leadership expectations, align performance with the new strategic direction and to embed a new approach to leadership, performance and development across the service. 

The process provided an opportunity to shift the health service’s culture by engaging leaders of all levels and disciplines in clinical and non-clinical settings to define what excellent leadership looks like at the health service. 

At the outset, the program shifted how people saw leadership, with the emerging tagline for the program based on the concept that everyone is a leader – whether they’re leading themselves, patient care, a team, a service, a division or the whole health service. This shifted the conversation from blame to engagement, ownership and empowerment. 

Challenges addressed by the organisation

Leaders who were working at a lower layer than their current role

Leaders who were unsure about where they needed to focus their efforts

Leaders who were struggling to successfully transition to a role at
another layer

Uncertainty about whether there were emerging leaders with the potential to fill key roles at all layers of the Leadership Pipeline(succession planning)

An organisational culture that valued developing and maintaining clinical and technical skills but where leadership roles and capability were often misunderstood and undervalued

A time-consuming compliance-focused performance appraisal process

Over a two year period, more than 1000 people were involved in at least one of ten key initiatives as part of a tailored Leadership Pipeline implementation program to ensure it was internally owned, embraced and embedded.

The process involved

Defined leadership layers and strategic focus

Developed leadership standards for each layer

Built new standards into simplified performance appraisal process

Coached senior leaders in new process

Developed leaders’ capability in coaching and the new process

Developed capability framework to support people to lift into
their standard

Developed peer support networks to embed new approach to performance conversations

Outcomes of the project:

A highly engaged Executive Team who championed the new
approach to leadership and performance.

New streamlined and transparent leadership standards that defined and built leadership capability through a focus on four key areas central to all staff (clinical and non-clinical roles).

Service-wide engagement with new leadership standards through an extensive consultation process across all facilities, leadership layers and professions with very positive feedback about the process and engagement approach.

Implementation of a new, less time-consuming, person-focused and development orientated approach to performance conversations between leaders and employees.

Increased leadership capability and commitment to having regular meaningful performance and development conversations. 

Over a two year period, more than 1000 people were involved in at least one of ten key initiatives as part of a tailored Leadership Pipeline implementation program to ensure it was internally owned, embraced and embedded.

Summary

For organisations looking to increase capability, agility and execution; the Leadership Pipeline is a mechanism to transform how people see their role, build a people architecture, and translate strategy into outcomes. Top-down or People and Culture mandated initiatives are often met with scepticism or change fatigue, particularly if its seen to primarily benefit the organisation. Part of the reason the Leadership Pipeline is seen differently by the workforce is that it resolves their personal pain and frustration, and demonstrates respect through a highly engaging implementation process that is built by them and their colleagues. It joins siloes, fosters understanding, provides transparency, builds accountability and sets an organisation up to swarm around and respond to the increasing rate of change.

Summary

For organisations looking to increase capability, agility and execution; the Leadership Pipeline is a mechanism to transform how people see their role, build a people architecture, and translate strategy into outcomes.

Top-down or People and Culture mandated initiatives are often met with scepticism or change fatigue, particularly if its seen to primarily benefit the organisation.

Part of the reason the Leadership Pipeline is seen differently by the workforce is that it resolves their personal pain and frustration, and demonstrates respect through a highly engaging implementation process that is built by them and their colleagues.

It joins siloes, fosters understanding, provides transparency, builds accountability and sets an organisation up to swarm around and respond to the increasing rate of change.

1Research shows that leadership can have an enormous impact on many aspects of the healthcare service, including governance, service quality, staff environments, teamwork, and safety climate (Blumenthal et al. 2012; Pollack & Koch, 2003), but more importantly, it has a direct impact on the quality of patient care and service delivery. A large amount of research has linked effective leadership with positive patient outcomes such as increased patient safety (McFadden, Stock, & Gowan, 2015), lowered hospital acquired conditions (Wong & Cummings, 2007), increased staff perceived patient care (Laschinger & Fida, 2015), increased patient satisfaction and lower patient mortality (see Dainty & Sinclair, 2017; Kaufman & McCaughan, 2013; Verschueren, Kips, & Euwema, 2013).

1Research shows that leadership can have an enormous impact on many aspects of the healthcare service, including governance, service quality, staff environments, teamwork, and safety climate (Blumenthal et al. 2012; Pollack & Koch, 2003), but more importantly, it has a direct impact on the quality of patient care and service delivery. A large amount of research has linked effective leadership with positive patient outcomes such as increased patient safety (McFadden, Stock, & Gowan, 2015), lowered hospital acquired conditions (Wong & Cummings, 2007), increased staff perceived patient care (Laschinger & Fida, 2015), increased patient satisfaction and lower patient mortality (see Dainty & Sinclair, 2017; Kaufman & McCaughan, 2013; Verschueren, Kips, & Euwema, 2013).

¹Research shows that leadership can have an enormous impact on many aspects of the healthcare service, including governance, service quality, staff environments, teamwork, and safety climate (Blumenthal et al. 2012; Pollack & Koch, 2003), but more importantly, it has a direct impact on the quality of patient care and service delivery. A large amount of research has linked effective leadership with positive patient outcomes such as increased patient safety (McFadden, Stock, & Gowan, 2015), lowered hospital acquired conditions (Wong & Cummings, 2007), increased staff perceived patient care (Laschinger & Fida, 2015), increased patient satisfaction and lower patient mortality (see Dainty & Sinclair, 2017; Kaufman & McCaughan, 2013; Verschueren, Kips, & Euwema, 2013).

1Research shows that leadership can have an enormous impact on many aspects of the healthcare service, including governance, service quality, staff environments, teamwork, and safety climate (Blumenthal et al. 2012; Pollack & Koch, 2003), but more importantly, it has a direct impact on the quality of patient care and service delivery. A large amount of research has linked effective leadership with positive patient outcomes such as increased patient safety (McFadden, Stock, & Gowan, 2015), lowered hospital acquired conditions (Wong & Cummings, 2007), increased staff perceived patient care (Laschinger & Fida, 2015), increased patient satisfaction and lower patient mortality (see Dainty & Sinclair, 2017; Kaufman & McCaughan, 2013; Verschueren, Kips, & Euwema, 2013).

Anna Waters, COO at Neuro
Anna Waters, COO at Neuro
Katie Eckersley, Executive Director at South West Hospital, QLD
Katie Eckersley, Executive Director at South West Hospital, QLD

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Contact Us

Australia

25 King Street Bowen Hills 4006

Netherlands

Weteringschans 165, 1017 XD Amsterdam

United Kingdom

30 Churchill Pl, London E14 5RE

Contact Us

Australia

25 King Street Bowen Hills 4006

Netherlands

Weteringschans 165, 1017 XD Amsterdam

United Kingdom

30 Churchill Pl, London E14 5RE