Building Your Bench – Today Not
Where to begin?
By Kylie Wright-Ford and Debra Benton
There is good reason why “shopping when you are hungry” is a
bad thing. The same principles apply to hiring and developing people
in your organization for the purposes of building a bench of leaders
for the future -- doing it when in dire need is the wrong time.
The era we are in, where demographic changes and tech advances
are happening at a pace never experienced before, is admittedly a
treacherous environment for CEOs. We are in a new world of work.
According to the World Economic Forum, we are entering the fourth
industrial revolution (moving beyond the digital revolution) and
according to McKinsey, it is going to be 300 times the scale and 10
times the pace of the first industrial revolution. With this landscape
as your reality, building your bench is potentially the most potent
protection you have against failure in the future but also your best
chance for success today.
The urgency around building a bench of future leaders is driven by
a unique confluence of factors, including changes in who we see at
work and how we work, that we are experiencing inside our companies.
Just as Millennials are swarming the rising ranks for many companies,
the boomers who may have built the foundations for the past two
decades are exiting at a rate of 9,000 a day in the US (Pew Research).
Successfully navigating these two counter influences requires a talent
strategy that values continuity of corporate memory and wisdom while
also embracing the tech savvy, fresh thinking and new communication
norms that often come with rising generations. It also requires
leadership that is enlightened and capable when it comes to leading
across generations and styles.
You may find that you have a glut of middle managers who are not
equipped to motivate and inspire the incoming talent or a leadership
team ill prepared to handle the technology demands of the business.
Alternatively, you may find that your culture is not competitive with
peer companies or your ability to innovate hampered by legacy thinking.
These are all common challenges.
The solution to any of these challenges is intentionally building a
diverse and deep bench of future leaders at every level of your organization.
The bench should ideally honor both the need for experience
and fresh thinking, technical expertise and creativity, competence
with new technologies and instinctive judgment. Whatever the circumstances,
building a bench that will future-proof your organization
should be an urgent pursuit.
So where to begin? Building your bench can start with tasks as simple
as auditing the skills you currently have in-house and identifying gaps
or as complex as undertaking extensive reviews of your future needs
and planning to develop or acquire the skills you need. It can mean
working with your own direct reports to enhance their readiness for
the future of the organization or doubling down on a hiring pipeline
that is thick with future CEOs.
Other common methods that companies use to build their bench
• Implementing rigorous and consistent evaluation processes
that produce results
• Nurturing a culture of feedback that encourages rising stars
to meet their potential and delivers honesty into the hands
of those who aren’t meeting your standards
• Hiring with a medium-term outlook and a thesis on what your
business will need
• Investing in training that is crucial to your key team members
• Honest conversations among the leadership team around where
the bench is and where it needs to be
• Developing metrics to measure your bench depth
Each of these methods require collaboration across the company
leadership and commitment to the cause. They require the confidence
of leaders to acknowledge that hiring their replacements is critical and
that their own skills need to be constantly developed. Finally, they
require the dedicated focus of the CEO to executing against the tactics
once the strategy is set. As one of my Chief Strategy Officer friends
once said, “If we don’t execute the strategy, it is simply a beautiful
PowerPoint.” Whatever the tactics are that you deploy, your benchbuilding
strategy needs to be started today, not tomorrow, if you wish
to succeed in the new world of work. LE
Kylie Wright-Ford and Debra Benton, authors of The Leadership Mind Switch, are executives and
coaches who speak on topics such as leadership, sustainability, and effectiveness. Benton is a globally
recognized bestselling award-winning business author and Wright-Ford was most recently the chief
operating and strategy officer for World 50, a company that connects executives with their peers.
Connect Kylie Wright-Ford
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