Hire for Bench Strength or Brace for Failure

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.

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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.)