How Tech Leaders Can Fill the C-Suite Pipeline and Keep It Full

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Jul 4, 2019

Earlier this year, two top executives left Facebook following disagreements with Mark Zuckerberg. These departures are high-profile examples of what’s at stake in tech hubs like Silicon Valley, where more frequent C-suite exits are destabilizing businesses.

To avoid becoming the next tech company undone by executive turnover, proactively fill your C-suite pipeline. While existing employees can help fill vacancies, internal talent can only get you so far. Whether internal recruits are not ready for promotion or lack the skills required to take your company in a new direction, an external C-suite pipeline can make the difference between steady company growth and months of leadership confusion.

Treat Diverse Recruitment as a Core Leadership Responsibility

As a business leader, recruitment is a key part of your job responsibilities — especially when it comes to filling C-suite roles where you have more direct access to qualified candidates.

It’s tempting to focus on C-suite recruitment only when you have an existing need. Establish the time and space to expand your network daily so you can proactively build relationships with people who could be potential assets for your company down the road. Your entire C-suite team should meet regularly to discuss succession planning, particularly in areas with forecasted talent or skill gaps that could limit growth.

The “network effect” is a real phenomenon, and we naturally align ourselves with those who are similar to us — it’s the same reason we experience echo chambers on social media. Counter this tendency by identifying and forming genuine connections with individuals who fall outside of your natural network. Men, for example, should concentrate on expanding their networks of talented women. It’s well documented that diversity inspires financial success and innovation, so look for opportunities to prioritize diversity as you explore new leadership.

You can’t expect to passively meet amazing people. Instead, actively seek out leaders from underrepresented populations who are doing great work. Let them know you admire their performance and want to get to know them personally. At the C-suite level, most people are willing to have conversations when they can learn from you, hear about your projects, and promote their own initiatives.

If you’re struggling to expand your network, partner with associations and organizations that facilitate networking opportunities for your industry and functional space.

For instance, if you have more time, consider joining a leadership circle or forum. These programs allow you to meet regularly with people who share your job title and access peer-to-peer mentoring opportunities. Leadership groups also enable you to accelerate learning and build a collaborative community of experts. Time-intensive networking commitments can feel daunting, but they’re a great way to determine how potential new hires work and think.

If you have less time, breakfast or dinner events on relevant topics may make more sense. Attend these kinds of gatherings once or twice a year to jumpstart your network, and then schedule follow-up meetings with other attendees as time allows.

Nurture Talent to Keep Relationships Alive

As you work to fill your C-suite pipeline, there won’t always be available job openings at your company. Nurture your network to keep talent interested until an opportunity arises. Having candidates on hand is especially important considering how challenging it is to fill leadership roles. A recent survey found it takes 71 days on average to hire a C-level executive, and even longer to fill positions with “director” or “vice president” in the title.

Don’t rely on just coffees or email to maintain your pipeline. Instead, consider more creative strategies:

  • Offer project-based work. Engage potential candidates with a project, initiative, or strategic imperative. This approach allows people in your network to experience your company on a temporary basis, while also building long-term relationships and employment interest. Project-based work adds a valuable try-before-you-buy step into recruitment, too. Previewing potential candidates as consultants offers an honest assessment of their skills and cultural affinities.
  • Volunteer together. Understandably, someone with a full-time job may not want to take on a project. In these instances, keep executive relationships alive through nonprofit/charity work. If you serve on a board or chair an event, invite leaders you are interested in to volunteer alongside you. Volunteering builds relationships in more casual settings, while allowing you to assess potential hires.
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