Getting in Shape: Improving Your Organization’s Bench Strength

The Bailey Group | November 5, 2020 | Blog | Leadership Development | Leadership Team Development | 4 minute read

Money, time and equipment are all important resources for an organization. But if we had to pinpoint the most important asset for any business, it would be its leadership team.

In an article for Forbes, Mark Roberts elaborates that effective leaders are crucial to an organization’s success. They play a role at all levels of the company, their business knowledge is indispensable and their decisions have the potential to make or break the rest of the organization.

While conducting business in an uncertain market, having strong leaders is more important than ever,  but not every manager is prepared to take on such an essential role. That’s why assessing your organization’s bench strength and identifying areas of improvement are a must for the longevity of your company.

What does bench strength mean for an organization?

Bench strength may not be a term you’re familiar with in terms of organizations, but it essentially means the steps businesses take to prepare their leadership teams. An easier way to understand this is via the official definition of business bench strength:

“The competence and number of employees ready to fill vacant leadership and other positions.”

Bench strength is important for the longevity and success of your organization. Not only does it prepare leaders for their roles, it also keeps top performers engaged as they have a clear career trajectory within the company.

However, as important as bench strength is, many organizations still have a difficult time understanding how to improve it. A recent study by Gartner found that 37% of HR leaders “struggle to develop effective senior leaders.” Even more surprising is that only 50% of those HR professionals surveyed felt they were well-equipped to help lead their team in the future.

Interestingly enough, Gartner also identified strengthening the current and future leadership bench as a top priority for HR leaders in 2020. It’s clear that while organizations understand the importance of their bench strength and creating effective leaders, they are unsure of how to do so.

The who and how to determine critical leadership positions

Bench strength isn’t a tangible concept, so it may feel difficult to measure how you improve it. And while it’s true there is no set score to measure your business against, you can start understanding how your organization shapes up by taking a hard look at its internal structure.

The first thing your organization should do when determining its bench strength is identify which positions are critical to business operations. The C-suite immediately comes to mind, and so should VPs and directors. While it can be argued that every position within a company is important, critical positions are those where if the spot was left vacant for a few weeks, the business would experience significant disruptions.

These executive roles are critical to business success. The leaders who fill them have advanced knowledge about the organization and the daily tasks they need to do to keep things running smoothly. These are the positions that should have a succession plan in place, as it would be impractical to create such a plan for every role within the company.

After identifying these mission-critical positions, it’s time to think about their daily responsibilities. An easy way to accomplish this is by asking those currently in the position for their insight into what it takes to do their job. From there, you can determine if there are currently employees within the organization who possess the skills to fill their shoes.

If you can name at least one or two individuals who would be a good fit for each role, your organization’s bench strength is strong. Chances are this isn’t the case, however, and you would have a difficult time filling executive positions internally. Luckily, there are some things you can do to improve your company’s bench strength.

Strength coaching: Helping your leadership teams succeed

Enhancing your organization’s bench strength is something that should be considered long before succession planning, but is often overlooked because leaders think they have a pulse on their team’s hard and soft skills.

Fostering strong leadership within your organization begins at a cultural level. Be transparent with the possible career paths and hire team members who embrace continuous improvement and advancement. Writing for Forbes, Ann Holland also noted that you should always be on the lookout for latent potential in your team. Sometimes the individuals you think would be a good leader don’t truly possess all the skills, while an employee you never expected shows potential.

To help your team develop more advanced leadership skills, you can assign them more challenging tasks or create a development plan for them to see how they perform and adapt. It’s also beneficial to bring in an outside perspective to improve bench strength. Executive coaching helps organizations unlock potential for growth and change within their own leadership team.

At The Bailey Group, we understand the complex challenges today’s business leaders face. Our experienced team of licensed psychologists, seasoned business leaders and executive coaches have the knowledge and real-world expertise to help them succeed. Schedule a consultation today to learn more about how we can help your organization improve its bench strength.