Data centers have a huge problem - an aging population. Leaders need to find innovative ways to make these fields more attractive so they have a pipeline of resources to backfill this aging population. One way is to think about the process through the lens of potential candidates.

by Alma Miller
September 30, 2020

This article is part of The Next Generation of Staffing: A series of 6 articles discussing topics relevant to the 21st century staffing challenges in the technology field.

Technology is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the world. Both small and large organizations are struggling to fill open positions and develop an effective pipeline of talent. Skills shortages will force management to develop new strategies to evolve their current workforce and build leaders within their organization. This article will look at three UX principles that can be applied to organizations interested in developing their leadership pipeline.

In one study presented in a Forbes article, only 14% of CEOs feel they have the leadership talent they need to execute their business strategies. In a 2016 Deloitte study, about 56% of executives surveyed report that their company is not ready to meet the evolving leadership needs. In another research survey, researchers found that only 10% of first level managers and 19% of second level managers have a potential successor identified. The results from the studies suggest to me that there is a clear issue with developing the pipeline of leadership talent in large scale organizations.

In the early stages of my career, I worked for a large multi-billion dollar defense contractor. The organization (at the time) had a pretty innovative approach to developing the pipeline of leadership talent, which they coined the Leadership Development Program. During this program, the participants would rotate from various roles on different programs to gain exposure and insight across the organization in a very short period of time. This program at the time was effective, but very costly. And like most things that are considered “extra”, they are the first to get cut when company spending needs to be more conservative.

But cutting the funding for the program only exacerbates the initial problem it was attempting to solve - how to feed a continuous pipeline of talent that can fill leadership roles in the future. In these times, we need new ways to solve problems and that requires us to look at problems through a different lens.

Cue UX Design

User Experience (UX) Design is typically associated with websites and applications, but it also has roots in the ancient science of ergonomics. The principles of ergonomics are based on making work more convenient and efficient. What if we were able to take some of the UX principles and apply them to this problem. Could we come up with some different solutions?

I attempted to do just that by taking three UX principles and applying them to the leadership talent pipeline problem.

Meet the Users Needs

One of the foundational principles of UX design is to focus on a user’s experience throughout the design process and life cycle of the service. To apply this principle to talent pipelines, leaders need to understand what would attract potential candidates to want to become leaders within the organization, and go through the grooming process for leadership roles. Most leaders focus on why they think individuals would want to ascend into high levels of leadership and what they should learn, as well as the experiences they need without first having the conversation with the candidates. It is important to understand the motivations and the desires of the pool of leadership talent to design a program around their particular needs.

Acknowledge That the User is Not Like You

Similar to the first principle, most executives that are designing leadership development programs or those that are mentoring are most likely not the same age demographic of those that will be utilizing the program. There are several nuances between Baby Boomers, Generation Xer’s, and Millennials. They learn differently, absorb information at different rates, and have integrated technology into their daily use differently. Designing a program with the end user in mind starts with admitting that the end user is different than you.

Doherty Threshold:

Productivity soars when a computer and its users interact at a pace that ensures that neither has to wait on the other.

When I am working with entry level or junior level technical associates, I find it challenging to find a pace where neither one of us are waiting on each other to either assign or accept work. When I am unavailable to provide the needed guidance, their attention starts to wane and their motivation declines. When I am providing them too much information that they are not prepared for, they start to feel overwhelmed and frustrated. Sticking that balance between giving them enough work that is challenging and enough space for them to figure out a solution on their own is a delicate balance.

Mastering that balance can help leadership candidates stay invested in the process of growth.

More UX principles could be applied to developing a talent pipeline than the three that I highlighted. I want to challenge you to think of solutions for this problem from a different perspective and to see if there are other UX principles that can be used.

I always enjoy keeping the conversation going. Find me on LinkedIn. I am always open for connecting with people in the industry.


Dr. Alma Miller is an enthusiastic entrepreneur, speaker, DevOps thought leader, and educator with over 15 years of experience in the IT industry. She obtained a Bachelors in Electrical Engineering from Catholic University, a Masters in Electrical Engineering from George Washington University, a Masters in Technical Management from Johns Hopkins University, and a Doctorate in Engineering from George Washington University. She started her consulting company, AC Miller Consulting, in 2013. Since then, AC Miller has provided services to government and commercial clients across multiple industries helping with ITIL and DevOps transformations. Dr. Miller speaks at industry conferences and events and teaches graduate courses for Johns Hopkins and University of California Irvine. She is the co-creator of the BVE Summit, a conference for entrepreneurs and business owners. Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn.
Tag(s): supportworld, best practice, customer experience, diversity, employee engagement

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