4 Easy Ways to Develop Bench Strength
If you’re a business leader, it’s safe to believe that you understand the need for, and the benefits of, succession planning. So, for the purpose of this article, we won’t spend much time addressing them. What we will highlight, however, are a few ingredients that are necessary in order to develop bench strength for your key employees. In sports, the definition of bench strength is “the quality and number of players available to substitute during the game”. In business, there’s a bit more focus on the quality piece; but really, the concept is the same. The whole purpose is to have people ready to step into a different role when a leadership or key position becomes available or when a new role is needed.
In sports, the definition of bench strength is “the quality and number of players available to substitute during the game”
To paraphrase Charles Darwin, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the more intelligent, but the ones most adaptable to change.” If that is the case, then how do you proactively adapt to a somewhat volatile business world? While every company is different, developing your bench strength is similar for every organization.
Here are 4 ways you can start.
1. Look to the future. This crucial step is often overlooked when organizations start their plan to develop bench strength. It is about connecting where the company is going with the skills needed to get there. Take a look at the company’s future plans; the direction it’s headed, its goals, and the strategies outlined to get there. Then connect that with the plan to develop the capabilities and experiences of the individuals that are needed to get there.
For instance, you may have the need for a Chief Technology Officer or someone who can implement and lead a continuous improvement culture to take your company to the next level; and these may be roles you don’t currently have in place. On the flip side, it’s also important to identify roles that you may have now but won’t need in the future. You might be surprised by how many leaders assume that if a position exists today, it will be needed in the future. Stop wasting your time and money on developing people for roles or positions that will not be needed in the future!
2. Create a culture of development. Each employee has unique gifts. Nurture those gifts and interests; and develop potential through ongoing discussions. Have conversations that specifically focus on activities that bring them joy or give them a sense of fulfillment, both inside and outside of work.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the more intelligent, but the ones most adaptable to change.”
– Charles Darwin (paraphrased)
Discuss what your employees are seeking in their next role or, more broadly, in their career. As you listen to your employees, respond to the various questions; and pay special attention to which subjects cause the person’s face to ‘light up’. This is a good indicator that the person is excited or feeling good about getting to do things that fit. In other words, it shows emotional interest. These things help to identify possible future positions or roles. Take note: this is not a one-time conversation. It should happen multiple times per year.
3. Keep an eye out for possibilities. Match up the current and future needs of the company with the people who most align with those roles. Look for people who are interested in, or have the potential to, step into the new position. And make sure those people have the necessary skills to do so. Seek more than one person per key position. You never know when someone you’ve identified to fill a role will decide that they aren’t interested or decide to leave the company.
Have group discussions with other leaders to review potential successors. Gathering information related to employee performance, skills, experience gaps, or outstanding performance provides a more holistic view of key performers. It will also help identify the most appropriate options for each employee. In addition, these conversations help managers in other departments become aware of star employees or those with unknown talents.
4. Implement individual plans. If you want to develop bench strength, you must start preparing employees for future positions. Be transparent. Organizational trust starts with being candid about business needs and who is currently qualified to meet those needs. Give employees the opportunity to strategically plan for the gaps between their expertise and the future business positions.
If you want to develop bench strength, you must start preparing employees for future positions.
Create individual plans to help each employee gain the knowledge, skills, experiences, and attitudes now, so they are prepared for new opportunities. If you can, give them your ideas for their next position or role. And most importantly, get your employees involved in creating their plans and be sure that they are given feedback on their progress.
Leaders must be continuously working to develop bench strength. Developing people for current and future roles is not a single event. It is your responsibility to make time for this regularly. Employees want to know how they will gain new experiences and knowledge. They want to know how they can be promoted, learn more, do more, and earn more. The more you have these conversations and help your people grow, the more everyone benefits.
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