How Deep Is Your Bench? – Grow Great Daily Brief #144 – January 28, 2019

How Deep Is Your Bench? – Grow Great Daily Brief #144 – January 28, 2019

“Next man up” is a commonly used phrase in team sports and the military. A variety of implications are in play. For starters, everybody is replaceable. But more importantly, the success of the team, the unit or the organization hinges on having people ready and capable of filling a space once occupied by a contributor. Otherwise, when one person goes away, or is absent, or leaves — then the gap goes unfilled. It speaks to the “bench depth” or the ability of an organization to have people in various stages of preparation to step up into a higher role. The show must go on!

Today I’m not so interested in how deep your bench is as I am in encouraging you to develop people. Invest in helping people become prepared to take their place and contribute more to the enterprise.

People are interested in contributing. Especially people ambitious enough to work on improving themselves. These are exactly the kind of people you want throughout your operation. If you don’t develop a culture that feeds their ambitions, they’ll go elsewhere. So this matter is important for today, tomorrow and ten years from tomorrow. Your present and future depend on it.

Without understanding your context I can’t possibly know what suggestions to specifically give you, but I can offer some general idea to help you figure it out for yourself.

Seek Understanding.

I’m starting here because it’s so obviously necessary. Too many people have their mind made up completely refusing to be open to having their mind changed. By anything. Including facts. Deeper truth. Or anything else. You know these folks. They’re the smartest people in every room they occupy.

You must understand your roster. Everybody on your roster. If you’re running a small team or a few direct reports, then it’s easy. If you’re directly responsible for dozens, or more, it’s more challenging. Meet the challenge by doing whatever it takes to get to know and understand the individuals on your team. If you don’t, then stop fretting about your bench depth. It’s not going to matter because the star players aren’t going to stay on your roster unless you’re whipping them with money. And good luck replacing them.

Understand what each person wants for their life. Not what you want for them. Not what you need from them.

You’ll be tempted to employ a single strategy with everybody. Don’t. They’re all different. You have to make adjustments based on their individuality. There’s no way to do that until you first know and understand each person.

Shut Up And Listen. Learn.

Your talent pool and the depth of it depends on your leadership. Your leadership depends on how deeply you care about your people. Each and every one of them.

Ask them about their life and what they most want. Then listen. It’s the path to understanding.

Demonstrate how much you care about them reaching their full potential. You want them to succeed. Don’t you? Their success is your success. Stop thinking your heroism is all about you. It’s not. It’s about them. All of them.

I’m preaching this message because your bench depth depends on it. Ignore figuring this out at your peril.


Do it. Make one. Keep improving it. Don’t assume you’ve got it figured out once and you’re done. Things change.

Put in the work to plan. Create a plan. Focus on what you’ll do if somebody leaves.

Ask a CEO what she’ll do if her COO walks in this morning and says he’s going to step down.

Ask a business owner what he’ll do if his right-hand man walks in this morning and says he’s turning in his 2-week notice.

Ask a sales manager what he’ll do if his top producer walks in today and tells him he’s found a better opportunity.

Many will admit it would completely wreck their week. Probably wreck quite a few weeks, maybe a few months. They’re not ready for such a thing to happen. Mostly because they don’t think about it, much less plan for it.

Plan for it. All of it. Stop ignoring the possibilities. They may be eventualities.


There’s something else about bench depth and understanding the individual members of your team.

Those scenarios I’ve just described are much less likely to blindside you when you really know and understand your team. You’ll be blindsided when you stop focusing on the people…and making sure they’re happy because they’re achieving their goals. And make sure they understand how important their contributions are.

The key to bench depth is the same key to anything else you accomplish in your operation. Pay attention to it. Make it a priority.

Figure it out. You can do it. I’m encouraging you to put your people first. It’ll pay off more than anything you can do.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

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Grow Great a public sector leadership podcastAbout the hosts: Randy Cantrell brings over 4 decades of experience as a business leader and organization builder. Lisa Norris brings almost 3 decades of experience in HR and all things "people." Their shared passion for leadership and developing high-performing cultures provoked them to focus the Grow Great podcast on city government leadership.

The work is about achieving unprecedented success through accelerated learning in helping leaders and executives "figure it out." 

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