One of the many aspects to organisation performance that sport teaches us is the importance of having a really strong bench. Gone are the days when substitutes are considered replacements for injured players. Today’s teams use their benches to spring better performances, bring in different skills depending on the stage of a game and to carefully introduce less experienced squad members to the heat of battle. Leadership pipelining is very similar with stretch exercises in place of game time, secondments and rotations used to give battle exposure. Like the sports field, flexibility in approach is essential to programme success and demands a mixture of learning events and experiences to round out the talent. Too often firms rely on educational programmes to fuel development, but many participants having been freed to attend such, often find the environment to which they return too stifling for them. The statistics behind the number of MBA graduates who leave their firms within twelve months of programme completion are frightening.
Balancing The Bench
Sports fans “know better” than any manager or coach about who should be playing, who should be on the bench and when they should come off it. Thankfully corporate leaders generally do not have to put up with the same abuse. That said, it is surprising how often succession decisions are subject to person bias. Not dissimilar from mirror image hiring, leaders can be prone to steering in a copy of themselves. Aside from the egotistically driven inappropriateness of this for the organisation, in such circumstances high potentials can get selected too soon for their stretch step, causing career damage. McKinsey & Company report that one in three CEO successions fail.
Four Steps To Effective Bench Management
1. Hire for stretch potential – Consider every new hire not just for what they can deliver today, but what, with effective planning and coaching, they can do for your organisation in the future. Which future gap might they be able to address?
2. Keep your programme simple – Planning is essential, but nothing without execution. Align specific development processes at the earliest point. Use external coaches if internal resources are inadequate. Assessment criteria can be excessively complex. Make sure assessment is at a level appropriate to the future needs of your organisation but clearly understood by all stakeholders.
3. Communicate objectively – Don’t use succession planning as a blunt retention tool. If you get your planning right, it will serve as such anyway. Unrealistic expectations raised or commitments given will only antagonise your higher performers. Transparency, intelligent foresight and clear links to strategic business goals are key elements to successful succession planning.
4. Start where it matters most – Larger organisations have choices as to where they commence their succession planning. For smaller firms, it makes more sense to commence planning at the mission critical functions within the business. For a lot of SME’s and corporate units this will be the area with most customer proximity and where turnover is highest. Building bench strength here will often add the most immediate value to your firm.