There is nothing more energizing to a company than growth. Increased sales, positive cash flow, an expanding customer base, outpacing your completion. It is very exhilarating for executives and employees.
But with this excitement comes challenges. Growing from a small company to a large one requires outstanding talent. Talent that can adapt, change, thrive and deliver. Growth brings newness, unpredictability, ambiguity, and often stress. Having equipment, capacity, sales and cash will only prove helpful if a strong team is ready and able to step up. In sports it is called bench strength.
Red Sox manager John Farrell enjoyed the upper hand over the St. Louis Cardinals in last year’s World Series. Farrell had one of baseball’s most productive benches. Being able to look down the bench, seeing the right player to send out on the field at a critical time in the game proved to be a significant advantage, propelling the Sox to the championship.
I recently spoke to a business owner who was looking at doubling his business in the next two to three years, expanding his facility, and opening his business to some new, promising markets. Yet, his excitement was tempered by the sober reality that his bench strength was weak—strong enough for today, but lacking in capability for what loomed ahead.
So what steps should an organization take to build bench strength?
- Know What You’ve Got: Evaluate your current staff. Their ability and willingness to change, adapt, and learn are essential traits. Ongoing assessment of your employees will allow you to know your current capacity and determine what your future needs will be. At the same time, through training and coaching, you can begin to raise skill and performance levels. All high performers should have a development plan in place to ensure future readiness. While growing your staff is a critical first step, sometimes individuals who performed in the past will be unable to help you in the future. Bench strength means having high potentials that are ready to step into new roles. Difficult decisions must be made.
- Hire Right: Future needs, not just today’s needs, should always be considered when making hiring decisions. The most important responsibility of every manager is to hire star performers who are qualified and engaged. Absent that and you can expect trouble. Invest time and money into the recruitment process. Finding the right people is never easy. Be deliberate and focus on both skills and fit. And never compromise. You wouldn’t want a so-so surgeon with a scalpel hovered above you, so why would hiring “good enough” be your standard?
- It’s All About Culture: An organization’s philosophy, its fundamental belief system, guides the organization in how it operates its business. As new employees come on board, it is the CEO’s responsibility to foster a culture that is in line with the philosophy of the organization. Each new employee and each existing employee must buy into this philosophy and all hiring decisions must be based in part on whether a candidate can adhere to it. Those who cannot don’t keep their place on the bench.
- Do Your Job: Each employee must know his or her job, the role they play in the organization and how they fit within the organization as a whole. They must be able to see the big picture. Only with role clarity can organizations run effortlessly. When roles are not clear, herding cats resembles order.
- Take Care of Your Employees: Creating a strong bench depends on setting clear expectations, putting accountability systems in place, communicating effectively and always taking care of your employees. Prosperity is dependent upon having motivated and engaged employees—not in a kumbaya sort of way, but by treating your employees respectfully, listening to them, showing flexibility and growing them.
Bench strength is both a competitive advantage and a critical element in any growing firm. Having a team made up of world-class talent differentiates yourself from the competition and positions your organization for the future. Too many organizations suffer from a thin bench made up of yesterday’s performers that prevent them from seizing tomorrow’s opportunities.
Look down your bench today. What do you see?