Who Pays for a Weak Bench?

by | May 7, 2019

I am baseball fanatic. I love baseball, and I love the Giants and I’ve always been attracted to the game’s calmness and strategy. It’s fascinating to watch the way that Bruce Bochy can take a group of players and mold them into champions.

One of the things I think about is the Giant’s bench—specifically how strong it is and who is on it. Yes, I have my favorite players and I wish they could play forever, but that’s not how life works. Baseball teams and organizations constantly need a new influx of talent. If they let their bench languish, they will eventually get into trouble because our beloved favorites will eventually falter.

Whether you’re leading a ball club or a business, you need people on the bench who have the energy and skill and perspective to step in. Is your bench strong? Are you developing your bench, or letting it languish?

Is your bench strong? Are you developing your bench or letting it languish?

Imagine a baseball team where players were only haphazardly developed and no one was given the opportunity to perform in a game. Not only would this be a waste of good talent, but it would be completely demoralizing for the players who want a productive future in the major leagues. Talk about low morale.

In the major leagues, baseball players are drafted for their specific skills. Hitters are drafted to hit, pitchers to pitch. Their team expects them over time hone their skills and be ready to eventually assume a starring role.

This approach needs to be reflected in other organizations. Why hire people if you expect that they won’t be stars? And if you hire them, why not work to make them stars?

In baseball, a player’s ability to hit, pitch or field will determine their fate. In organizations, the ability to make decisions and advance an initiative is the equivalent of hitting .300.

Organizations need to give their bench players–not just their current stars— the ability to make decisions, and the encouragement to do so. If you don’t actively develop your bench strength, it won’t be there when you need it.

In baseball, a player’s ability to hit, pitch or field will determine their fate. In organizations, the ability to make decisions and advance an initiative is the equivalent of hitting .300.

And a weak bench isn’t just a capacity issue. If a team doesn’t actively cultivate a thriving bench, when faced with an opening, it can easily believe that the best solution is to go outside, to get a player on another team. The belief is that once they find “that one key player” then all will be well. This perspective has real costs. It can start insane bidding wars…with completely uncertain results.

To wit, right now Bryce Harper who signed with the Phillies for $330 million dollars , is currently batting .233. While the Harper deal might very well be a tremendous advantage to the Phillies, the corporate landscape is littered with examples of people who fail to develop their teams, and brought in expensive talent that couldn’t be successfully integrated.

This lack of attention to the company bench, and the belief that the “best people” can only come from outside does a disservice to many organizations. Sure, you can outsource leadership development courses to consulting firms and universities, and many companies do. But this doesn’t replace the need to actively develop and manage your bench.

A strong bench requires a hands-on approach. It requires decision-making practice, and mentorship. It also requires an expanded view about who in your organization is a leader, and can be a leader with some guidance and apprenticing. Everyone in your organization should be hired with the expectation that they have some decision-making ability and leadership potential. And only through a hands-on-guidance will you see who can surprise you with their latent leadership talent, ideas, and drive.

A strong bench requires a hands-on approach. And an expanded view about who in your organization is a leader, and can be a leader with some guidance and apprenticing.

So why don’t companies take a hands-on approach? Often, they don’t feel they can make the time commitment, and this perspective is short-sighted. Put simply, you get what you pay for. If you’re unwilling to develop and provide decision-making opportunities to your bench, your people won’t be there when you need them. And you will need them. The best value comes immediately from those that are already steeped in the organizational culture and deeply familiar with its working strengths and flaws.

What can you do to start the process of developing a stronger bench of decision-makers?

How can you build a stronger bench?

Select a few (or all) of these steps to get started:

  1. Take a hard look at your stars. Are they committed to your organization? Will you need to replace them or will they be leaving in the next 2 years?
  2. Take a hard look at your key bench players. Do you have enough talent in your pipeline to manage your organization 2 or 3 years from now?
  3. Think through how swift decision-making is in your organization. Does it move as fast as the market requires? Do you constantly re-visit decisions? Or do you foster a “make and move-on” decision-making culture? Give it some thought as to where you are and where you want to be.
  4. Our work tells us that middle managers often are under-utilized. They’re paid reasonably well, but are not expected to make many decisions. Do you see this in your own organization? How can you leverage the talent and abilities of these people better?
  5. Get your middle managers together.

a. Ask them whether they feel involved in decision-making in your organization.
b. If you’re willing, suggest you want to change the decision-making culture and make it more inclusive.
c. Allow your middle managers to speak outwardly about their fears of making decisions.
d. Encourage them to step-up and advocate for bigger decision-making roles in your organization. Each person should be asked to advocate for one new decision they want to make.
e. Talk about how decision failure will not be met with recrimination, but with support.
f. Assign senior leaders to serve as coaches to each of the middle managers and to coach their decision-making.

This is how you develop a bench and create a pipeline of “players” that will sustain your organization. Taking any one of these steps will all build the decision-making muscle in your organization, which leads to a greater leadership ability for your organization and a stronger bench. By creating a strong bench, you decrease your reliance on outside recruiting and make the kind of plays that allow you course-correct mid-season, and continue winning.

Mobilize Your Vision™

Mobilize Your Vision™

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