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Hire for Bench Strength or Brace for Failure

by Mar 25, 2014, 5:29 am ET

Screen Shot 2014-03-17 at 8.25.05 PMBaseball spring training is here, so it’s a perfect time for us to talk about the importance of an organization’s bench strength. When you think about all-time greatest baseball players, near the top of the list are legends Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, Ernie Banks, Rod Carew, Tony Gwynn, and Harmon Killebrew.

Guess how many World Series championships those Hall of Famers won combined? As many as you and me: Zero. Those players all set individual major league records, but their teams never won the ultimate prize.

Tying that point to our organizations, we can’t be satisfied having just a couple superstars on our team and no bench strength to support them. Ultimately, we won’t win. Our organizations won’t achieve key goals in a timely manner, and we run the risk of sliding backwards if we lose one of our superstars.

Too often, we hire people whose full potential and ambition are invested in performing the jobs they’re hired for. Then, when we need more from them, they’re not able or willing to go the extra mile.

Your goal should be to have at all times (or be working toward) at least one employee with the skills, personality, character, ambition, and technical competence to take over each key position in your organization right away. Without this, your company will be unable to attain its growth goals quickly, reducing future profits and opportunities for your co-workers to achieve their career goals.

Also, if a key player is incapacitated for a couple months or longer, your organization could be damaged. I learned that lesson the hard way when I was diagnosed with cancer. But I was fortunate that we had hired several high-potential people who filled in for me when I was sidelined by my surgery and chemo treatments.

Here are four important actions I suggest you take to improve your bench strength: 

  • When you’re hiring for a salesperson, don’t hire a salesperson.When you’re hiring an entry-level manager, don’t hire an entry-level manager. Kind of contradictory, eh? Instead, hire someone who will start as a salesperson and could grow into a sales manager, sales trainer, or more. Hire someone who will be a fine entry-level manager, then grow into a division leader, vice president, or more.
  • Offer jobs only to candidates you believe will still work at your organization in 10 years. There are no guarantees that an employee will stay with your organization. But if you uncover reasons likely to cause a candidate to leave sooner, don’t hire that person. You shouldn’t be trying to put bodies in seats. You should be trying to hire the people who will create your future.
  • Don’t hire candidates who frequently switch companies or careers. A candidate whose résumé shows a pattern of jobs with less than four years’ tenure will probably leave your company long before 10 years have passed. Some employees hop from job to job every two to four years. Other employees have a high job turnover because their employers are conducting some form of differentiation in which they terminate some percentage of their bottom performers. Either cause is equally problematic for your goal of long employee tenure.
  • Don’t predetermine how much your company is willing to pay a candidate to fill your open position. Pay whatever it takes to hire a candidate who will provide bench strength and achieve your company goals. Predetermining a salary cap can cause your company to miss out on hiring what J.D. Rockefeller called “the ablest, most earnest, and reliable in the field of business.” After interviewing, determine if the candidate’s salary expectations are realistic and reasonable. You have to be able to cover the expense, of course. But don’t cheap out if the person will provide bench strength and achieve your company goals.

Some of the Related Conference Sessions at the ERE Recruiting Conference in San Diego:

  • Talent Communities, Pools, and Networks: Lessons Learned
    (Wednesday April 23, 2 p.m.)
  • Think Like a Marketer and Ace Your Recruiting Results (Thursday April 24, 3:15 p.m.)
  • Recruiting for Fit with Corporate Culture
    (Thursday April 24, 3:15 p.m.)
  • Recruiting Tech Talent: Critical Strategies, Tools, and Technologies for Winning the Toughest War for Talent (Wednesday April 23, 2 p.m.)

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  • Chris Young

    I could not agree more – you must have bench strength – I am a Jack Welch follower and I learned from him – always have a succession plan in place to immediately replace those leaving.

    I worry about having just one person to replace a particular role. I think one need several people who can take over each key position in your organization right away. The only way you are going to do that – particularly in sales is to benchmark the job, use a hiring score card, and use a valid sales personality test to ensure you are hiring the right talent in the first place.

    It continues to blow my mind how much hiring managers depend on their gut intuition during the interview and hiring process. There is way too much guessing in today’s world when it comes to the potential of talent.

    Keep rockin’.

  • Keith Halperin

    Thanks, Jim. Glad to hear you’ve beaten the “Big C”.

    I think that many of your suggestions are less applicable in more dynamic places, like here in the Bay Area (at least to many of the companies I’ve been exposed to). If you want someone good to be here in 10 years: then you better give them a 10 year, “guaranteed-raise/bonus, no-layoff-without-cause” employment contract, or expect most decent folks to head off for greener pastures. As far as not hiring people who’ve lasted less than 4 years- a large percentage of COMPANIES around here aren’t around that long, let alone their employees. We’re in an increasingly: “I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone, let’s do the deal!” world. Employees would be well advised to “unleash their Inner CEO”: work to get as much money, training, experience, benies, connections, freebies, swag, etc. as they possibly can properly squeeze out of the employer until such time as they can get the hell out before it all comes tumbling down around them… Finally, if you don’t know what you can afford to pay (and if money IS an object), then you can quite often expect to have someone above you veto that hire.

    Keep Blogging and Stay Well,

    Keith “Not the Gloomiest Gus” Halperin

  • chuck Mancino

    Keith, I get your points. Jim is coming from a place where he hires in Erie, PA, a town with few opportunities; nothing like doing biz in the SF/Bay area. They were the big fish in the little pond and could have a certain attitude with hiring employees since there are so few opportunities in Erie for white collar work with decent pay. It’s a totally different environment than cities with many more options for skilled sales people and managers. But this is what they know, so not all of it applies across the board to larger cities or areas that actually experience growth. Erie has less and less to offer to white collar employees. It’s pretty bleak.

  • Keith Halperin

    Thanks, Chuck. I hear you. I grew up in a small town in New Mexico- not much there, either…

    -kh

  • chuck Mancino

    Keith, I actually helped develop the interviewing process at what is now known as Jameson Publishing (It used to be called “Corry Publishing.”) I am not sure exactly what they do today, but I have a good idea. I am guessing they still do the “dinner with spouse” meeting I helped develop. And I hear they have actually expanded the interview process to have more meetings than any jobs known to mankind. To be honest, if that process was attempted in an area like the Bay area, it would probably offend many applicants. Who wants to have to go through 6-7 interviews for a job? How can one even find a way to make that many excuses to miss work at your current job? Also, they have a ratio of salesperson to manager – if I can believe this – as a one manager per two salespersons. At some point, you’d think you hire good people and let them succeed instead of micro-managing to such an extreme level. Training can be great, but there is something to be said to hiring good people and give them the leeway to succeed. There is more than one way to skin a cat, so they say. Many sales styles work. Not just one. The funny thing is, they were (are?) big on saying, “Don’t be defensive. You need to improve and do as we say” but I wonder if the management applies that same concept to themselves?

    If you read many of the points above, you can see, while they may have worked for them in the past, they may no longer apply to the real world. For instance, “Don’t hire anyone who has frequently switched companies or careers?” Ummmm, that held some truth in the 90′s, but have you seen the carnage out there the last five years? It is quite likely that you had absolutely no choice but to switch companies and careers. You can’t point the dirty end of the stick at someone who had to go to company to career as a necessity. What if you company goes out of business? What if your prior career was decimated due to the realities of today’s job environment? Do you now how many cabbies, tellers, landscaping guys I bump into who were former engineers, etc. and simply have to take whatever they have to in order to put food on their table and a roof over their head? But this article says to no consider hiring those people? I don’t know. I don’t think everything that applied in the 90′s still applies today. Some, sure. Any how, I wish them the best. But I think they might want to step back and re-evaluate some of their mindsets and policies. Hiring for bench? I say you will be lucky to just succeed in the here and now and don’t worry about “hiring for the bench” as you will be fortunate just to make it right now, especially in the print magazine field, which is what they are in. If you really worry about the future too much, I don’t think you will survive the present.

  • Richard Araujo

    “The funny thing is, they were (are?) big on saying, “Don’t be defensive. You need to improve and do as we say” but I wonder if the management applies that same concept to themselves?”

    Doubtful they do. In my experience most managers are exemplars of the very behaviors they supposedly can’t stand.

    “Do you now how many cabbies, tellers, landscaping guys I bump into who were former engineers, etc. and simply have to take whatever they have to in order to put food on their table and a roof over their head? But this article says to no consider hiring those people? I don’t know. I don’t think everything that applied in the 90′s still applies today. ”

    I don’t think it ever applied, really. The problem with recruiting/hiring is that there’s always someone who wants the job enough to submit to ridiculous treatment, and who when hired will likely perform adequately. Does that define success for the process though? Companies with such hiring practices usually succeed in spite of those practices, and because of specific circumstances as pointed out above. If the job market gets bad enough a company can hire people by lining up all applicants and hitting them on the head with a hammer sequentially until all but one passes out, and then hiring the last one standing. And, likely, someone on Ere.net will write an article about this new innovative hiring practice everyone should emmulate.

    “Hiring for bench? I say you will be lucky to just succeed in the here and now and don’t worry about “hiring for the bench” as you will be fortunate just to make it right now, especially in the print magazine field, which is what they are in. If you really worry about the future too much, I don’t think you will survive the present.”

    It’s a matter of priorities, really. You can pull out any aspect of the hiring process and concentrate on it and write, “Make sure never to forget this!” Each situation will dictate how much time you can and should spend on whatever aspect of the recruitment process is getting talked up.

  • http://www.thekickerszone.com Marc Nolan

    Jim.

    Good article- but your Baseball hiring analogy and trying to keep talent or seek talent who will stay for ten years does not work. For instance, the University of Colorado Boulder did a study that showed the average length of a MLB career was 5.6 years, and that 1-5 position players will only have a single year career which came out to about 11 per cent of the MLB population. I played in the NFL as punter and we have a joke that the NFL stands for Not For Long. In the world I work in (IT Staffing) for the most part technical (and somewhat Functional) consultants want to advance their skills and many times do not want to stay on the same version of software or platform and seek to upgrade the version of software they want and for which the current company has no plans of doing (kind of like a baseball player not wanting to stay on the same crappy team year over year. I just wrote a white paper I am waiting for ERE to publish, called Why Recruiters Similar to Baseball Players need an RBI- but in this case the RBI stands for Recruiting Business Intelligence.

  • chuck Mancino

    “The funny thing is, they were (are?) big on saying, “Don’t be defensive. You need to improve and do as we say” but I wonder if the management applies that same concept to themselves?”

    Doubtful they do. In my experience most managers are exemplars of the very behaviors they supposedly can’t stand.
    —————————-
    Gosh, Richard, you nailed this one. I have seen “managers” that sweat employees over a 2 minute non-business chat, but take 15 minutes out of every hour to go have a smoke. That is beyond hypocritical.

    “Do you now how many cabbies, tellers, landscaping guys I bump into who were former engineers, etc. and simply have to take whatever they have to in order to put food on their table and a roof over their head? But this article says to no consider hiring those people? I don’t know. I don’t think everything that applied in the 90′s still applies today. ”

    I don’t think it ever applied, really. The problem with recruiting/hiring is that there’s always someone who wants the job enough to submit to ridiculous treatment, and who when hired will likely perform adequately. Does that define success for the process though? Companies with such hiring practices usually succeed in spite of those practices, and because of specific circumstances as pointed out above. If the job market gets bad enough a company can hire people by lining up all applicants and hitting them on the head with a hammer sequentially until all but one passes out, and then hiring the last one standing. And, likely, someone on Ere.net will write an article about this new innovative hiring practice everyone should emmulate.
    ——————————
    Excellent point. You have to also ask, “Why is so and so an authority on hiring?” I mean do they have a track record of only making successful hiring decisions? Have the majority of their hires become smashing successes? Are those hired 5 years ago still at the company? Where are they? If you “super techniques” are so successful why have so many people you have hired not at the company any more?

    “Hiring for bench? I say you will be lucky to just succeed in the here and now and don’t worry about “hiring for the bench” as you will be fortunate just to make it right now, especially in the print magazine field, which is what they are in. If you really worry about the future too much, I don’t think you will survive the present.”

    It’s a matter of priorities, really. You can pull out any aspect of the hiring process and concentrate on it and write, “Make sure never to forget this!” Each situation will dictate how much time you can and should spend on whatever aspect of the recruitment process is getting talked up.
    ——————–
    Spot on. And putting people through an endless interview process is offensive. The eventual message is “We are awesome. We are perfect. You must worship us to be even considered to be hired.” Tips and techniques are fine. They can help. But anyone acting is if they are so genius at hiring, you got to ask yourself how perfect their track record is. If you go from 100 employees down to 30, what happened to all those great hires? Have your hiring techniques proven successful everywhere or just in your neck of the woods? If your techniques are so awesome, what happened to the 100 people who didn’t work out? What then? I think many people can just use their natural vision and insight and hire as well as anyone. An overdose of regiment truly proves nothing. There are those who can tell more about a person from a 10 minute chat than others can perceive from 7 different interview meetings with tests, etc.

  • Richard Araujo

    @ Marc,

    Any idea when that might be published? I’d be interested in reading it. I too am in tech recruiting now, back to agency from the corporate side. ‘Longevity’ in tech careers just doesn’t happen these days, for the reasons you state plus all the other reasons people leave jobs.

    The first bit of RBI I’d recommend to people is to do a salary survey, for the love of God. Internally I could fight unrealistic salary ranges. At the agency I have less control/ability to push back, and I’m already seeing a large number of REQS where everyone I find who meets the client’s needs, regardless of years of experience, is commanding 10-50% more than they’re willing to pay. It’s a little ridiculous, and indicative of dysfunction in the client’s organization, and not something people on the sales side seem to understand. To them, any position is possible to fill at any price.

    I’m on Long Island and it’s actually called “A Long Island Salary” out here, defined as the understanding that even though it’s expensive as hell, no one here pays all that much, so deal with it. Many people commute into the city for work, because an hour or four on the train is worth it for a lot of people, for at least a while, when it means an extra 15-20K and often more on your salary for the same job.

  • http://www.thekickerszone.com Marc Nolan

    Richard.

    I have not heard back from the “powers to be” at ERE, but if you or anyone would like a copy, here is my personal e-mail address and I will send it out to whomever would like a copy. (marc_nolan@comcast.net)

    I also have another one coming out shortly… “Houston (and just about every other city) we’ve had a recruiting problem” and outlines the world of recruiting that many of us came from “back in the day” and the current state of recruiters, IMHO.

  • Keith Halperin

    @ Chuck, Richard, Marc: Thank you for your comments.

    It’s long been my contention that most of the serious problems in recruiting are created and maintained by the GAFIS (Greed, Arrogance, Fear, Ignorance/Incompetence, and Stupidity) of those dictating hiring practices- aided and abetted by those high-level shills, flatterers, and sycophants (largely untroubled by recent, real-world, practical recruiting knowledge) who make their livings by telling these same people what they want to hear. I’m glad we don’t have any of either of these types here on ERE!

    -kh

  • chuck Mancino

    Keith,

    Are you sure you didn’t describe what is wrong with the world and not just the problems of recruiting with your GAFIS theory? I am troubled and very irritated by the endless “there can never be too much” attitude that the whole world seems stuck in. It seems there are less and less companies who “balance” profits with the well-being of customers and employees. It seems everyone (CEOs, management, shareholders) is always out to endlessly apply a tighter squeeze on all involved without ever considering the human factor that should be some where in priorities mix. I have several neighbors who were asked to take 25-30% less by their companies, for no other reason, than seemingly, “because they can.” It was either take a pay cut or lose your job. I guess I don’t agree with Gordan Gecko: Greed is bad. As the hyper elite continue to secure a larger percentage of overall wealth, the common man just keeps taking more body blows. (How did I get on this rant?)

  • Richard Araujo

    Hi Chuck,

    Greed isn’t bad, it just is. The problem is, it’s supposed to be balanced by fear, which is the flip side of greed. You’re greedy for more, you fear losing what you already have, and the greedier you are, the more you fear losses. Blaming such issues on greed is like blaming a plane crash on gravity. Yeah, it’s the ultimate cause, but it doesn’t tell you the specifics of why any particular plane went down. Greed is like gravity, present everywhere at all times, and it averages out; the CEOs in industry X are no more or less greedy than those in Y, on average. So the real question is what specific conditions are enabling the greed to out balance fear in any situation. I think the answers are outside the appropriate range of subjects for an Ere.net comment.

  • chuck Mancino

    Richard,

    I get your point. I get what you are saying and there is truth to it. However, Greed is defined: excessive or rapacious desire, especially for wealth or possessions.

    To me, “greed” goes beyond simple “ambition.” To me, it implies someone so egregious that they knock the teeth out of a 90-year-old man to get his $20 worth of gold fillings. To me, “greed” is when you quell all human decency at the sake of making every last dollar. Greed goes beyond the desire to make more profit. Greed is what is involved when people donate money to a natural disaster, to help those who have no roof over their head or food on their table, but the “powers that be” funnel that very money to corporations to build factories while the people remain starving and homeless. Or how about a pharmaceutical company knowingly selling AID tainted drugs so as to not lose profits? That is bad. I don’t know how one can feel it isn’t.

    Any how, you are right: The subject isn’t in the appropriate zone for ERE discussion.

  • Richard Araujo

    “Greed is defined: excessive or rapacious desire, especially for wealth or possessions.”

    I think the examples you bring up set good objective boundaries for differentiating greed from just wanting more stuff; theft, coercion, violence, fraud, etc. With regard to HR and Recruiting, the issue is where does ‘too much’ or ‘greedy’ start with companies and candidates/employees asking for things from one another? I think we’re all in agreement that right now, the scales are tipped in the employers’ favor, and have been for a long time, though we may disagree on the cause of that situation.

  • chuck Mancino

    We do agree. I think there is a vast difference between “A healthy desire for more sales and profits” vs. what I consider “greed.” When is enough enough? I knew a company that was bought out by a corporate Wall St. group. And, overnight, the entire culture changed from a fair, decent, employee-friendly group, – where they truly cared about their people – to a greedy, margin-obsessed monster. Most people I know say their company went from one that valued experience and its people, to one where paying the lowest possible price for their people is the top priority. And, is it just me, or doesn’t anyone realize that crappy service people hurt sales vastly compared to paying that person $5-$10 more an hour? Why is it that companies think saving pennies but losing dollars makes sense? It’s just rampant. What % of companies out there value quality employees these days? It’s got to be a small amount.

  • Richard Araujo

    @Chuck,

    It’s seen vs unseen. The money ‘saved’ by getting lower quality labor is seen directly and immediately. The impact of it over time are generally unseen and not provable in the end. The sales and repeat business lost due to a bad service department and/or reputation are hard to quantify even should a company try and do so, which most don’t, and then in the end not provable.

    Companies look at employees as costs. The reality is they engage with their employees in a mutual exchange of labor/work product for salary. Like all exchanges, it’s done by reverse valuation; each wants what the other has more than what they currently own. That means employees are an addition to a company’s revenue stream in reality, if they are managed right. That last is the major problem. Most companies don’t manage, there’s no grand plan, they’re winging it from day to day. And, everyone wants to get rich quick and lay around the rest of their lives. Few want to work for a fair wage, live well if not extravagantly, and then retire and chill out somewhere.

  • chuck Mancino

    Well said, Richard.

    And it’s funny: I have seen companies where they once – at least partially – lived up to the “we treat employees with respect and greatly value them,” but as good fortunes turned tight, their once-stated mantra become the polar opposite of actual actions. They still chant the same mottos, but no longer followed them; they became empty words. And you are right: As the bottom line became dinged with the foundation cracking, they then started to view employees as costs and wanted those costs cut, cut, cut. And then it turns into a vicious cycle: With the cutting of your most experienced, most talented, most tenured people, your sales drop even lower. And the next reaction is a tighter and tighter control of said remaining employees via micro-management, monitoring, etc. and the harder they attempt to squeeze for control, the more slips between their tightening fingers.

    Bottom line: Going cheaper and cheaper with labor, while applying an uptick in attempted control results in failure, but don’t tell anyone active in that process; they already know it all.