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Training Is Not Development: A Look at Peterson's Developmental Pipeline

Updated: Jun 13, 2022

I was recently introduced to a concept developed by author and coach David B. Peterson, known as Peterson's Developmental Pipeline. The idea is that there are at least five phases in an employee's professional development and training is only one of them. Human Resources professionals are not unfamiliar with the concept of a pipeline. For example, there is a candidate pipeline in the hiring process. Building a pipeline gives you access to talent, and maintaining the pipeline requires consistent effort. Candidates shouldn’t languish too long without any communication from the company. Peterson’s message is that employee development doesn’t happen in one training event. Training is step four in his process.

Peterson's Developmental Pipeline speaks to me as an executive communications coach for non-native English-speaking executives and managers. It puts the work I do in a context and suggests some additional elements I can add to my programs. I want my clients to succeed in putting their newfound skills into practice and making them part of who they are. Peterson’s pipeline offers a methodology for making sure development efforts stick. Let’s look more closely at each element of the pipeline.


Before you can fix a problem, you need to know what the problem is. While an employee may be aware that something in their behavior needs to change, they may not be able to identify the exact behaviors or skills they most need to develop. Awareness of the actual problem is necessary before any development can take place. An employee may need feedback and guidance to gain insight into what they need to work on to become more successful.

In the case of non-native English-speaking employees, they may realize that their communication is not getting the desired results, but they may not be aware that language itself is only one piece of the puzzle. Cultural understanding and managing their personal mental filters may also be affecting their ability to communicate successfully.


Identifying the problem is half the battle. If someone isn't willing to change and grow, no amount of training makes a difference. Learning a new skill takes effort. If an employee isn't motivated to put in the effort, their behavior won't change, no matter how many training courses they attend. But motivation doesn't always come first; sometimes, action creates the motivation. Sometimes when an employee dives in and "just does it," they begin to see results, and seeing the results drives the motivation. No matter the order, motivation must exist for development to occur.

An executive or manager whose first language is not English might be motivated to learn to communicate effectively when they realize their ideas are not being heard or a vital idea gets hijacked. The desire to be acknowledged for their contributions might be all the motivation they need to invest time and effort into improving their ability to communicate impactfully in English.


It's essential to assess where an employee is starting in their learning journey. What level of skill do they already possess? What knowledge do they already have? What is it that needs to be trained? Measuring your employees’ capabilities allows you to “train to the gap,” ensuring the best and most appropriate use of training resources.

You can’t become a better presenter by reading about how to present. You have to do it! That’s why one-on-one coaching or small-group courses are the most effective way to develop communication skills. Non-native English-speakers all speak English at some level. The question is whether that level allows them to persuade, enroll and inspire like a leader.

Real-World Practice

No matter one-on-one coaching or a small-group course, training is provided in a bubble. The controlled environment allows the learning to occur, but once the learner has acquired a certain level of proficiency, the new skills need to be applied in the real world

My clients communicate every day, presenting in meetings, speaking with colleagues, and writing emails. Having an opportunity to incorporate their new skills into their daily work life is not usually an issue. What can be more challenging is getting honest feedback on how they are doing. This is where an internal mentor comes in. I encourage each of my clients to find an internal mentor, someone they trust to give them honest feedback on their performance, and I also provide that mentor some coaching.


Individual accountability is crucial for the success of any development program. Ultimately, the employee being developed must take responsibility for ensuring the desired changes occur. Simply put, they must do the work. That is not to say that having an accountability partner or mechanism is not helpful.

The internal mentor mentioned above can also function as an accountability partner. In addition to providing real-time feedback, just knowing this person is watching a listening can engender accountability in the person being developed. It’s best if the mentor is a peer and someone who is regularly present when the employee presents. Bosses are not recommended as mentors.

Start a Conversation about Executive Communication Skills Coaching

If you are a human resources professional involved in developing professionals whose first language is not English, it's time to consider a new solution. My 1:1 Coaching Program is designed with the development process in mind. I've surrounded the training with internal mentorship, motivation, accountability, and real-world practice to ensure that the training and coaching stick.

I'd love to speak with your HR department about how I can help your non-native English-speaking leaders become fully contributing members of your team. We go beyond English as a Second Language training and accent reduction. By incorporating cultural differences and principles of leadership communication, we help your leaders acquire skills that will propel their careers forward.

Contact Boldt Global or write to me, Barbara, at today to learn more about my executive communication skills coach work.

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