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Episode 40: Building Bench Strength

In this episode, we are going to talk about bench strength. Usually, what I mentioned bench strength, the first thing that pops into people's head the idea of sports. Making sure that your sports team has people on the bench who can fill in when the key players have time off for sickness or injury, or maybe they're just not playing at their normal a game. So why do you think businesses don't build bench strength in their organizations? We know how critical it is for sports teams don't we think that it's critical for our companies and our organizations? Does it get put on the back burner because you're busy having and doing business of today?

The reality is for your organization to be successful long-term you need to start thinking about right now. In a recent article I read are Baby Boomers are retiring at a number of about 10000 people a day. That started around 2011, and they forecast that that'll continue to go on until about 2029. Think about that every day, about 10,000 people are retiring from our organizations. That is a lot of people, and if we don't have bench strength, people who are already keyed up and ready to help us get to our next level, there's going to be a gap to fill.

When you start building bench strength first thing is to identify potential people for developing. Look around your organization, who is already raising their hand, who's already volunteering, who are already taking the lead, but they need some polishing? That's a good group of people to start with. Understand what their future goals are and where they're looking to achieve. You may have a superstar in your organization, and in the conversation you have with them you find out that their ultimate goal is they're going to school to become a doctor, and they're just working in your organization trying to get through school. That does not mean you can’t give them additional responsibilities. But you can’t count on them for the long term because their goal is to eventually go into a different career path. People that you talk to who are passionate about their career inside of your organization or maybe when you talk to them, they're not talking about their future in your organization (maybe they don’t know that there are opportunities). They may not talk about leaving, but they're very passionate about what they’re doing. Those are the people that you want to start developing.

One of the best things that I've seen is have them work on Project teams. You might not have projects in your organization. You might say, “I don't have any projects currently.” I bet that over the year you have a mental list of projects you want to achieve. You think in your head I got to handle this by myself. But what if one of those people that you're trying to develop for bench strength could work on pieces of that project. It gives you a chance to see how they handle the project. It helps you learn if they are responsible for getting things done. Do you have to tell them every step or are they able to figure things out for themselves? The kind of qualities that we look for in leaders, of course.

Give them opportunities to work in different areas inside of your company. Help them learn about your organization from the ground up. You might think they’re not going to like that it. It doesn't mean you have to assign them there for the rest of their career. Maybe it’s one day a week, another leader, and your organization to give them opportunities to see the other pieces. When you do that, they get a broader view of how all the pieces can fit together.

I also suggest you think about some formal leadership development. Help them improve their communication skills. Maybe you suggest they join Toastmasters and learn how to do a great job doing public presentations and speeches. If that's an area that they need to improve on. The conversations with them help us understand where their strengths are and where are the areas that they feel like they need to develop.

Then you keep doing that with multiple people throughout your organization. You identify somebody; you get them on a development path, you start planning this maybe I can get them to work in this area for a while. And as time goes by and as you have people retiring, you're already developing people to move into those roles.

But you don't want to do you don't want to come out to the person and say, “Hey I think that you're going to be the next vice president.” Crown people ahead of time it doesn't make any sense because all of a sudden, it changes how they're interacting with everybody else, and they might still have a lot of development they need to do.

If you're thinking about developing your bench strength in your organization, that's a great start. But don't just think about it. You have to do something. You have to be intentional. Many times when we're thinking about development, we think somebody else will do it. My managers will take care of that. But if you're the leader of the organization, you need to make sure that you're leading that charge or you have somebody else who is leading that charge. Development doesn't happen by accident. You have to be purposeful in it.

You want to make sure that as Baby Boomers are retiring that information, the tribal knowledge that they have in their head, has been shared with your up-and-coming team. That way, you're not left holding a bunch of spaces that are not filled. You have people who can potentially fill them.

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