Creating a leadership bench takes the skill of a coach and the precision of an engineer. But there are five distinct steps you can take to build your leadership bench – and keep it moving.
First, and most obvious, you must create and maintain a leadership development program. This isn’t simply an order to the training department to create leadership courses. You must obtain buy-in from your management team by showing the benefits: the leadership bench, succession planning, talent management, and career pathing. Your program should begin with classroom training -at all levels, if possible. Everyone in your organization should know what your definition of a leader is – and how to get there. But as you move up the ranks, leadership development should be ongoing, challenging, and not necessarily a sure thing. The program should include real-time projects, seminars, assessment, and evaluation. Program participants who slip should be coached back up – or out. Once someone is in the leadership program, he or she should continue to improve in all aspects.
Second, create a succession plan. Many organizational leaders have a succession plan that resides in their heads. This is not the best place for a succession plan – and you must have the input of the rest of the management team. From your leadership program participants, identify where strengths and opportunities lie. Find out what makes these people tick – it’s possible you have an operations manager whose first love is marketing. The idea here is that you should know who your talent is and what motivates each one of them. But more importantly is the fact that your succession plan, drawing on the strength of your leadership bench, will help determine where people go in the event of planned or unplanned losses of leadership. You won’t have to worry about who would take your place or the places of other seniors or executives, just in case. With this plan in place, you’re building your leadership bench.
Third, conduct regular talent review. This step is twofold: you should be conducting regular talent review both outside and inside your leadership development program. The outside review and assessment should be your tool for identifying potential leaders – and grooming them for the leadership bench. The inside review and assessment, as we’ve mentioned, should focus on maintaining the standards your organization requires of its leaders. Identify high professional and high potential leaders as well – high professionals can be counted on to lead within their field of expertise while high potentials can probably be moved from one area of expertise to another if necessary. With this evaluation and assessment, you’ll be able to fill your bench with “A” level players and coach “B” level players into the “A” position. The beneficial side effect of this approach is that “C” or “D” players will either strive to achieve a higher level or self-select themselves out of your organization. By conducting regular review, you’re keeping your leadership bench ready and always manned.
Fourth, consider rotational assignment within your leadership bench. Some organizations see merit in moving high potential leaders into temporary positions – to expose them to other areas of specialization within the organization. Doing this will also help you separate your high potential leaders from your high professional leaders – and also to focus on creating succession planning for both areas. Once a leader comes off of a rotational assignment, he or she adds further strength to your leadership bench.
Finally, meet with your leadership team regularly to assess the bench, make changes to standards, or to consider how quickly (or slowly) you need to add to talent to the bench. This ensures continued buy-in and weigh-in on the leadership bench and its members.
As we mentioned earlier, building a leadership bench takes coaching and precision. In the precision category, you and your team have to manage the bench to make sure it’s not too big or too small. If you have a huge bench with too many members, they’ll start to look for opportunity elsewhere. After all, as you move up in the organization, there are only so many slots available for potential leaders. But if your bench is too small, you could find yourself in trouble if the business expands or changes rapidly.
Focusing on these steps will help you build your leadership bench and ensure leadership continuation for years to come.