Training APEX Awards Best Practice: Nelnet’s Leadership Pipeline

The pipeline comprises four programs that leaders complete as they progress through key leadership career milestones.

APEX Awards

Finance/banking company Nelnet’s Leadership Pipeline aims to increase leadership skills to drive engagement and retention of talent within the organization.

The pipeline comprises four programs that leaders complete as they progress through key leadership career milestones, including:

  • Preparing to take on a leadership role
  • Taking on their first leadership role
  • Transitioning into a second-level leadership role

Program Details

The four programs in the Leadership Pipeline are:

  • Preparing for Leadership focuses on those who want to embark on a leadership role.
  • nGage2: Leading with Purpose is a leadership onboarding course to help new leaders maximize the first 90 days in their new role.
  • Emerging Leaders focuses on the foundational leadership competencies needed to be successful in a leadership role.
  • Steps to Supervisory Success focuses on expanding leadership competencies for mid-level leadership roles.

All programs except Preparing for Leadership are live, instructor-led, cohort-based virtual sessions. Preparing for Leadership is a combination of eLearning content with a live, instructor-led cohort-based kickoff and capstone session and an executive Q&A session.

Nelnet also implemented professional coaching in two of the leadership programs within the pipeline. In Steps to Supervisory Success, learners work with a professional coach to develop their own individual development plan (IDP). In nGage2: Leading with Purpose, participants engage with two different coaching opportunities. As part of the CliftonStrengths assessment, all participants meet with a coach to take a deep dive into their unique Strengths profile. Secondly, learners must develop a 60-day action plan for maximizing their onboarding experience. They meet with a coach to develop and execute this plan.

Outside the pipeline, Nelnet developed two learner-driven training resources available to leaders throughout the organization: an eLibrary and curated eLearning course library. The eLibrary allows leaders to check out ebooks and audiobooks of best-selling leadership development books anytime, anywhere. New ebooks and audiobooks are added on a regular basis. The curated eLearning course library provides leaders on-demand access to more than 290 courses covering an array of learning topics.

Nelnet also expanded its partnership with an outside vendor to provide associates with access to massive open online courses (MOOCs). This affords leaders flexibility with self-paced on- demand and customizable development paths for which they can earn college transfer credit. Learning hours for leaders can range from 4.5 hours to 24 hours. Leadership topics in these offerings include business leadership, digital leadership, and communication. This allows leaders to expand their learning into formal academic programs.

For each individual program within the pipeline, the Kirkpatrick Evaluation Model is used to ensure the program (and the overall pipeline) is meeting learners’ needs. Level 1 surveys are sent at the end of each program to elicit learner feedback. Additional surveys are sent three months after program completion to evaluate that behavior change is ongoing. Learners and their leaders are asked to specifically identify changes they have implemented and maintained since completing the program. For Level 3 and 4 evaluations, the promotion and retention rates of participants are tracked and compared to the rates for the organization as whole.


The overall promotion rate for participants in the leadership pipeline is 41.3 percent. The promotion rate for each individual program within the pipeline is:

  • Preparing for Leadership: 47.2 percent after program completion
  • nGage2: Leading with Purpose: 63.2 percent after program completion
  • Emerging Leaders: 37.4 percent after program completion
  • Steps to Supervisory Success: 41.8 percent after program completion

In addition, the overall retention rate for participants in the leadership pipeline is 90.4 percent. The retention rate for each individual course within the pipeline is:

  • Preparing for Leadership: 84.0 percent
  • nGage2: Leading with Purpose:7 percent
  • Emerging Leaders:9 percent
  • Steps to Supervisory Success:0 percent
Edited by Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine, owned by Lakewood Media Group. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.