Pipelines in Academia and Leadership

At a university, people are the most important resource. You would probably say that about many companies, but academics, and society in general, invest huge amounts of time and resources in the personal development of these academics to become experts in their fields. The continued development of academics – and of those who lead them – is of paramount importance to the continued performance and impact of universities and business schools.



Photo: Tao Lytzen

By Peter Møllgaard

A “pipeline approach” to the recruitment, development and promotion of both academics and their leaders will ensure the best possible framework for human resource management at universities and business schools. It provides a consistent and transparent way of aligning expectations as to performance at various levels and at the same time a way of ensuring that the transitions between levels is accompanied by appropriate development that allows the individual in transition to better cope with the expectations related to the new role.

This probably sounds abstract, so let me start by discussing the “leadership pipeline” and how this approach may be adapted to academia (CBS could be a case in point), and then develop an “academic pipeline” approach that suggests how we might be better at handling academic transitions from, say, PhD student to assistant professor to associate professor to full professor. In the process, we might also contemplate how the pipeline approach relates to the “Leaking Pipeline”, i.e. to the relative loss of female talent along the academic pipeline.

The pipeline metaphor is well established in professional literature. Using the metaphor does not ignore that talent is also found outside the pipeline, or that talent may leave the pipeline to take up outside positions, nor does it mean that everybody should go from one end of the pipeline to the other. The pipeline metaphor concentrates on developing talent at each stage, making sure that people get the possibility to develop their potential to complete a transition to the next stage and that they, once they have completed a transition, get support to fulfil the potential in their new role.

At CBS, we are probably already using pipeline thinking – perhaps more implicitly than explicitly – both for academic careers and for leadership careers. This article makes some of this thinking more explicit to formulate expectations regarding responsibilities, behaviour and performance of academics and leaders at various levels. In that way, we also develop a language of leadership development and of academic development.

Leadership Pipeline
The Leadership Pipeline has been one of more influential approaches to leadership development and talent management of the last fifteen years, since the publication of The Leadership Pipeline by Charan, Drotter & Noel (2001). The fundamental idea is that work values, time application and skills needed to lead differ according to where you are placed in the organisational hierarchy. As such, it also provides advice as to how you need to develop in a career moving from one level to the next – how you need to change when you do a transition or “a passage” from one level to the next.

In the words of the original book: “As you will discover, each passage requires that people acquire a new way of managing and leading and leave the old ways behind in the following three areas:

  1. Skill requirements – the new capabilities required to execute new responsibilities
  2. Time applications – new time frames that govern how one works
  3. Work values – what people believe is important and so becomes the focus of their effort

The challenge for organisations is to make sure that people in leadership positions are assigned to the level appropriate to their skills, time applications, and values.”  (Charan, Drotter & Noel, 2001, p. 20).

Obviously, it is as important to develop the skills, time application and work values of leaders to be commensurate with the leadership positions they hold or aspire to. That is the way to avoid the Peter Principle – that you get promoted on the basis of your achievements in your current role, not on the work values, time application and work values in the intended role!

For the sake of argument, and in order to keep it close to CBS’ fairly flat structure, let us assume that we have four levels in the hierarchy: academic, head of department, dean and president. This is definitely a stylised representation along several dimensions, but let us qualify it in the subsequent discussions.

As a “regular” academic, you especially need self-management skills: When you become a new academic by accomplishing the PhD, your skill requirements are predominantly professional and related to teaching and research. As you progress through the academic hierarchy and gain more experience, the types of academic assignments typically broaden. This development is described further under the heading “Academic Pipeline” below.

Leadership Passage 1
The approach of the leadership pipeline points out that if you are promoted from being a “regular” academic to being head of department, then you need a set of skills that is different from the one you used as an academic. In this new position you do not only have to manage yourself, but you have to lead others.  This is Passage One or the first transition. Ways to prepare for becoming a head of department would be to take on roles as, for instance, member of a study board, programme director, member of a management group at the department, or deputy head of department.

Having accepted the new role, one of the pitfalls may be that you often are inclined to keep doing the activities that successfully led to your promotion, although you now need to spend less time on your own research and teaching, and more time to plan, assign work, recruit, motivate, coach, and give feedback to employees at the department. This means that your time application should change and so should the set of skills. Most fundamentally, you should realise that your work values have to change, for instance from valuing your own research the highest to valuing the research and teaching of the entire department. You also have to realise that you now operate in an official capacity and therefore need to understand administrative law and sometimes act as an arbiter. This is often a difficult transition to accomplish and it needs to be supported by development initiatives in the organisation.

Leadership Passage 2
Passage 2 would then be from head of department to dean, if we take the case of CBS. This is a transition from leading others to leading leaders. According to The Leadership Pipeline, the typical challenge of the second transition is that the leader must divest individual tasks to only lead. The new role entails selecting the right people for Passage 1, assigning managerial tasks to heads of department, coach them, allocate resources across departments and manage the boundaries between the departments. In addition, at this level it is expected that one takes a broad long-term perspective, thinks about strategic issues and engages in problem-solving across the entire organisation. Clearly, there is a development in the work values, the time application and the skills needed – and for this reason, the transition needs to be supported by adequate development initiatives in the organisation.

Leadership Passage 3
Passage 3 would be from dean to president (or, in the more general case, CEO). In addition to building the right team for Passage 2 and to becoming entirely cross-functional and even more strategic, you also have to integrate functions across the organisation. This requires less time for “doing” and more time for reflection in order to balance present needs against future possibilities. You will often work with few high-priority strategic goals and focus on the whole rather than its constituent parts. And again, a change in work values, time application and skill set is needed.

The original Leadership Pipeline did not have three, but six passages and was developed for large companies in the private sector. Obviously, this approach would have to be adapted to be suitable for a university or a publicly “owned” business school along several dimensions. Work by Dahl & Molly-Søholm (2012) has been done to adapt the framework to one suitable for leadership in the Danish public sector. This might not go all the way in terms of an adaptation to a CBS setting, but it is an inspiration.

A fundamental difference between the Private and the Public Leadership Pipeline is that leaders in the public sector need to understand the political games that are going on. Obviously, this is especially true for the top leader who needs to focus on the political games and be able to mediate in relation to political priorities and other stakeholders on the public stage, since these factors may hugely affect the organisation.

At CBS, we used the framework in part in the recruitment of seven new heads of department. In that process, the expectations as to work values, time application and skills needed were discussed with all candidates. In continuation of this recruitment of talent, we are now working with HR to offer a range of development activities for the heads of department individually and as a group.

Academic Pipeline – and the REEAD model
A typical academic career goes from PhD student through postdoc and assistant professor to tenured faculty. Tenured faculty may be associate professors or full professors. There is value in thinking of the academic career using the pipeline approach. This makes explicit what is expected at each level in the pipeline and how to make transitions. Such a “pipeline approach” to recruitment, development, retention and promotion of academics will ensure the best possible framework for human resource management at CBS.

Based on all fifteen departments’ strategy work, which included a section on each department’s view on job content and requirements for recruitment and promotion, we developed the REEAD model that divides academic activities into the following five categories:

  1. Research: investigations and scholarly publications according to the tradition of the field
  2. Education: teaching and other educational activities
  3. External funding: fundraising for specific research projects and/or groups
  4. Academic citizenship and management: a variety of activities that include organising seminars and leading a research project
  5. Dissemination: explaining research in the media and engaging with the business world and society at large.

The pipeline approach explicates that academics at each level are not expected to deliver on all of these activities to the same degree. But in contrast with the Leadership Pipeline, there is a tendency that these activities are cumulative – more is expected at each level, both in terms of scale and scope, the further up the pipeline that you are. Let me give some examples that are synthesised from strategic input on this from all departments during the winter 2015/2016:

PhD students are in constant development: in this position we train graduates to become researchers. PhD students also teach, but the focus is on learning how to conduct research and to publish research as a PhD dissertation. The focus is on the “R” and to a smaller extent on the first “E”.

Assistant professorships are ”in-service training positions” and for this reason assistant professors have a higher research percent than tenured faculty. The two main tasks are research and teaching. To develop the latter, assistant professors are requested to undergo pedagogical training (APP: the Assistant Professor Programme).

Associate professors are expected to increasingly deliver the three remaining activities: External funding, Academic citizenship and leadership and Dissemination. Tenured faculty is assumed to have a fully developed research profile and to be comfortable with a variety of teaching methods. They are therefore expected to be able to both maintain (and increase) these activities and to initiate new types of academic activities. Accordingly, an associate professor is expected to raise funds, not only for her own research, but also for PhD students; to be a member of, for instance, a study board; and to participate regularly in the public debate within her field. This transition is difficult, and associate professors often feel overwhelmed by the extra demands. To support this transition, CBS offers an Associate Professor Development Programme (APDP), which deals explicitly with how to manage the extra activities. In Pipeline parlance, the associate professor needs to get to terms with work values, time application, and skills needed at this level.

Full professors are also expected to deliver along the full scope of the REEAD model. Research needs to be original and at the highest international level – the full professor epitomises her research area; teaching activities are expected to be research-based, innovative and effective; external funding is achieved with the purpose of building a research group in the area; academic leadership includes leading research groups and contributing to the strategic direction of the department; and her dissemination activities are setting the agenda of the public debate in her area. Full professors are expected to have a lot of drive and to some extent be conscious of own development, but CBS offers to pay for research management courses, etc., which allow the full professor to successfully complete this transition.

The Leaking Pipeline
The Leaking Pipeline metaphor has been used to point towards the lack of female leaders or female academics, especially at high levels. According to the Leaking Pipeline, the underrepresentation of women at high levels may be explained by selection or self-selection mechanisms at each passage in the pipeline.

The phenomenon was noted already by Alper (1993), yet there is still evidence of leaking pipelines both in the academic pipeline and in the leadership pipeline at CBS. While women constitute around half of the employees at all levels up to and including assistant professors, less than 20 percent of full professors are women. And while women constitute one third of the heads of department, none are present in the senior management. Such underrepresentation surely represents a loss of talent at the top of the organisation.

The pipeline approach gives a framework for fixing the leaks. Evidently, the first step must be an analysis of the causes of the leaks. What are the reasons that fewer women go through the passage from associate to full professor or from head of department to member of the senior management? Such analysis is currently being undertaken. Once we know the reasons behind the leaks, it is possible to design development programmes with a particular view to helping women through the difficult transitions.

The pipeline approach makes explicit which work values, time allocation and skills that are needed at various levels in the academic track or in the leadership track. These differ according to the level and we need to help individual leaders or academics cope with difficult transitions. We will actively use the pipeline to render expectations as to job content, as well as criteria for recruitment and promotion, transparent and we will assist academics and leaders in preparing and completing passages through the pipelines.

In that way, we harness the full intellectual powers of the university to the benefit of businesses and of society.

Literature and further reading:
Alper, Joe (1993). The pipeline is leaking women all the way along. Science, 260 (5106), 409-11

Charan, Ram; Stephen Drotter; and James Noel (2001) The leadership pipeline: How to build the leadership-powered company. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Conger, Jay A. & Robert M. Fulmer (2003) “Developing Your Leadership Pipeline”, Harvard Business Review

Kaiser, Robert B. (2011) “The Leadership Pipeline: Fad, Fashion, or Empirical Fact? An Introduction to the Special Issue”, The Psychologist-Manager Journal  14(2): 71-75

Molly-Søholm, Thorkil & Kristian Dahl (2012) Leadership Pipeline i den offentlige sektor, Dansk psykologisk forlag

The page was last edited by: Communications // 12/17/2017