Building Bench Strength

We need to build depth in people who can handle critical responsibilities. If one or two of our key players were out for an extended time, we’d be in big trouble. But I’m not sure who to move up, or when. How do I do this?

Thoughts of the Day: Find out what departments are backed up. Build certification courses. Hire for capable and potential. Get organized for growth.

Building bench strength – what does that even mean? Think about a company that can expand easily by 30%, 50%, 100% or more, confident that the workload will be handled correctly and profitably. Who would need to step up? And who would back them up? That’s bench strength.

Start with assessing the organization. Which parts are already stressed, less able to deliver consistently, more likely to fall down on the job if asked to add more volume. These are your development priorities.

Take a look at your leaders. Who do people look up to and naturally follow? And how well do those people do at making good critical decisions when the chips are down?

How many of the current leaders and workers can handle more than they do already? What would have to come offer their plates in order for them to increase their contribution? Who would have to step up for that to happen?

Who could step in to replace people who move up? What do the replacements need to learn? Make sure replacements get to practice at the job they might move into.

Evaluate individual engagement. Do your up and coming potential leaders want the challenge? Will they jump in or hang back if given the opportunity to do so, and why? Is it experience, confidence or desire? The first 2 you can fix, but the desire is something that the potential leader has to come up with.

Create a development process that leads to consistency. Think training courses with tests for comprehension. Grow leaders who all have something in common – an understanding of how things should get done. Ask people who do the job well today to help develop the training and certification, since they know best what’s needed.

Have people from the bottom of the organization to the top complete the training courses. No exemptions. Pay attention to feedback on how well the training worked, and what else people would like to see added. Assess how motivated people are to keep going through the various levels of training. Any training program should feel individually rewarding, enough so that people are encouraged to keep going to the next class, and the one after that.

People you’re looking to grow need to do today’s job well, as they prepare for tomorrow’s challenges. Make sure you hire people who can step up to today’s opportunities and have energy and capacity left over to put towards more growth. Figure out what are the next 2 or 3 jobs that each person in the organization might rotate into, to expand their horizons and increase their ability to contribute. Put together individualized training programs that develop individual potential.

Draw a map of the organization today, and what it might look like at twice the size. Show who is in each job today, and what jobs they might grow into. Look for holes – jobs that nobody is likely to grow into. Is this a missing part of the company’s training program, a niche set of skills that’s missing, or a development area that requires outside intervention? Put together a recruiting program to plug internal holes. Start looking months, or even years in advance of need. When you find the right person, make a place for them, even if it means starting them at the bottom, or rotating them into a variety of assignments to get them ready.


Looking for a good book? Best Practices for Succession Planning, Case Studies, Research, Models, Tools, by Mark Sobol, Phil Harkins, Ternece Conley.


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