Name the sport — they all target a strong bench to lead them to the success they covet so greatly. In baseball, it might be a burly DH (designated hitter) or a strong closing pitcher. In the competitive game of “hoops,” the 6th, 7th, and 8th players are almost always as talented, experienced and valuable as the starting five. In football, the bench strength appears in the form of the 11 starters who don’t happen to be on the field at the moment … be it the offense or the defense. When it comes to NASCAR, you’d better have one of the best pit crews on the circuit, or you may as well stay off the track. Tiger Woods pays his caddy six figures. Do you think that’s for rotating the tires on his golf cart or for providing the experience, support, advice, knowledge, judgment, and talent that has led Tiger to become one of the most successful talents in the game today? That caddy is Tiger’s bench strength!
Although there are far more analogies, I don’t have the time or space for them all here. Why the sports analogies? If you don’t think business is a game, you’re still in the bush leagues. Choose your sport and note the similarities in today’s marketplace … competition, talent, budget, high stakes, moving franchises to new locations, marketing, growth, strategy, experience, fans, creativity, teamwork, and, of course, BENCH STRENGTH. Sports have become big business, and business has become a very competitive gamble with many high-stakes consequences at risk.
The examples are many, but the point remains the same. You’d better have a constantly growing, high-performing, extremely focused, in-the-know, ready-to-go bench in order to compete — much less win — in today’s competitive marketplace. How would you rate YOUR bench on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 representing total satisfaction? If it’s under 8, you’d better get to work!
Over the past five years, we have witnessed a growing number of our clients that have recognized this reality and taken action to focus on establishing or strengthening their “bench.” They have taken the necessary steps to identify, recognize and develop existing employees who have the potential to be a “future leader” within the organization. They then utilize the many strategies available to assist those selected employees as they evolve into a leadership role. While time frames and methods may often vary, the results are usually the same. When the organization is ready to elevate these employees to official leadership roles, the transition is much smoother, takes less time to produce notable results, creates far less stress and inhibitions, reduces turnover and increases productivity.
Current tactics include mentoring programs; increased empowerment; increased interaction with leadership, clients, and vendors; involvement with special products and/or R & D; opportunity to train others; bench marking assignments; job shadowing; advanced training; and the opportunity to attend meetings, conventions, and trade shows usually reserved for higher levels.
Program guidelines exclude any change in titles, levels of authority, pay increases or additional working hours. The organization provides opportunity, guidance, and regulation. The employee contributes openness, involvement, and a willingness to grow. No promises are extended other than opportunity, consideration, and growth. This win-win situation has resulted in the valuable “bench strength” required to compete in today’s chaotic environment.
Several of our clients have identified anywhere from 5 to 25 potential leaders who have regular meetings to share training, exchange ideas, brainstorm, cross-train, benchmark, and support one another. Some have even created team mission statements, beliefs and values, logos, and team goals. Many have even established names for their teams that represent their missions, such as Future Leaders, Fast Trackers, Pace Team, Strike Force, Supreme Team, etc.
Results certainly support the creation of these teams as the concept of “bench strength” becomes more viable, and even necessary, every day. If you scored under 8 in your earlier evaluation of your organizational bench strength, consider the identification of potential leaders who can and will enhance your potential for future productivity. Look for those current staff members who demonstrate:
- a true desire to lead others
- obvious potential
- respect of peers
- education and experience
- enthusiasm and positive attitude
- creativity and enthusiasm
- unrelenting curiosity
- integrity and trustworthiness
- an openness to risk-taking
Identify these people, articulate the opportunity, answer their questions, make the offer and get them in gear. Clarify the “Big Three” (expectations, accountability, and consequences) and, most importantly, “Inspect What You Expect.”
While the task may appear daunting at first glance … the return on investment is incredible! If you’re still in doubt, reframe the equation by seriously considering the question: “Can you afford to procrastinate in such a critical area of growth and productivity?”