Are Your Leaders Ready for Heavy Lifting? 5 Steps to a Stronger Bench

Written By Randy Hall  |  Competency, Leadership 


We have all likely heard the term “bench-strength” and convinced ourselves that collecting a group of talented people who have potential to be the next big thing in leadership and management somehow makes us sleep better at night.  We feel at ease knowing that if anyone on our team leaves or gets promoted into a new opportunity, we have a group of people ready to step into that spot. Unfortunately, the comfort associated with having a bench is much like that workout machine that sits in our basement.  It will do us no good unless we put it to use.

Having an increasing number of employees be ready, willing, and able to take on more complex roles within the agency is absolutely necessary to future success, sustainability, and growth of your organization.  What you do to strengthen your bench will ultimately determine the direction of your company.  If your talent just sits there on a list, they are bound to get dusty and by the time it is their turn to step into a leadership role, they will be leading tomorrow with yesterdays ideas and capabilities.  On the contrary, if you actively engage your bench, work them out, and create a diverse set of skills and capabilities, you will see a whole different set of results.

So what does this all mean for us today?  It means it is time to develop a workout plan!

Step 1:  Identify what we need on our bench.

What muscles do we need to workout in order to survive growth and future changes in our business? Are we moving towards expanding into new territories, launching new product lines, finding ways to grow despite changes in technology and competitive landscapes?  Then we need a bench to match those goals. Try creating role profiles for new and existing positions and assess what each role will need in terms of core competencies, but more importantly, attributes that will determine success in those roles.

Step 2: Choose your bench based on the future you want to create.

Creating a diverse bench is about selecting different skill sets and looking for future growth and potential, not just selecting the current top performers and expecting them to sustain their current performance. Having competency in a task does not mean that you are good at teaching, supporting, and influencing others on how to do that same task. So look deeper than just who is performing well in their current roles and isolate the skill sets and capabilities that you need for the future.

Step 3: Engage and excite your bench.

Maintaining someone’s name on a list isn’t enough. Take a look at how employees are making it to the list.  Can employees self-select themselves onto the bench?  Do your current leaders have a consistent process for placing new talent on the bench and evaluating those who are already there?  Having multiple entry and exit points to your bench will keep it more diverse, talented, and energized.  Once they make it to the bench, link their name to future opportunities, have them weigh in on what future positions excite them, and make a list of what strengths, capabilities, and potential each person brings to the table.  This will keep your bench engaged and more likely to seek growth in their own capabilities and strengths.

Step 4:  Develop a workout plan.

So you have great group of diversely skilled people sitting on your bench.  They are excited to be there and have future goals in mind.  Now it is time to devise a workout plan that builds on the momentum and goals you have in place. Try a quarterly workout plan for your bench that is competency specific vs people specific. It might be that an individual is on three different paths as they build various competencies versus only being focused on one upward hierarchical position.  When developing your plan, add some variety into how you workout the bench.  Think coaching, role playing, job shadowing, cross functional trainings, workshops, development plans, the list goes on and on.  The key here is to plan ahead of time because just like with any workout goals, if you don’t plan, it doesn’t happen!

Step 5: Implement the plan.  

You have future goals, correlating competencies, people who want to grow into these capabilities, excitement, momentum, and a plan….now what?  Well, to quote Nike, “Just do it.”

Taking these steps to develop and engage your talent will actually turn your ‘bench’ into an active pipeline of people who are equipped with a diverse set of capabilities that will ultimately determine the future fate of your organization.  Remember, it will be their ideas, visions, skills, and efforts that will influence and lead the company you have today and turn it into the organization you want tomorrow.

Leading Through Influence

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