I was talking to a local sports coach who was worried about his team’s lack of bench-strength. During the season his players would get injured, ill, tired and fatigued, and he needed a strong bench to make it to the end of the season. If this is an unclear term to you, you are not alone. We realized that most of us in Talent Development talk about ‘bench-strength’, may not be clear what it really means or how to use it.

The bench comprises strong and skilled players who do not start the game but sit ready to play when needed. A clever sports team manager tactically moves players off the bench and into, or out of the game to have an impact. Bench-strength is necessary for winning.

Players on the bench are there for a purpose. They come into the game at times when:

  • Players in high intensity positions are tiring.
  • Where the introduction of a key player can have an impact on the game.
  • When the opposition is weakening and specific players can take advantage of this to open the game up, or close it down.

Do you remember the term ‘First Team Players’ and ‘Substitutes’? The first significant point is that bench-players are not ‘substitutes’ who may possibly get a game if someone is injured. In the modern game, it is difficult for players in some positions to keep up the extreme level of intensity required in a full game. They are all ‘first team players’ and are rotated for maximum impact.

The second significant point is that a bench-player always plays at some point in every game. They have a specific role to play.

In Talent Management we talk about building bench-strength. What often happens is that employees are told they are in the Talent Pool, and then:

  • Have to wait months before an assignment.
  • Have to wait for someone to resign in order to get into the role.
  • Have few chances to get involved in high intensity situations.
  • And so get disillusioned.

What we can learn from the Sports Manager is this:

  • Bench-players are used as a strategy to give other players a rest, and so perform to a high level overall.
  • Players will tire, will get fatigued, and need to know there are other impact players coming on.
  • Players perform at high intensity for a given period of time.
  • Leaders need to know when to pull a player out of the game and use someone from The Bench.

A typical sporting team will carry a number of bench-players. This has implications for Talent Management:

  • Can you rotate your managers into and out of the game at strategic points when they can add real impact? Can you spot when this is needed? Can you move people in and out within your policies and processes?
  • The stress and strain of high intensity business implies some people will need to be rested for a time. Do you currently wait until ‘burn-out’? Is it seen as routine to rest people for a time? Can you do this?
  • Your bench is part of your key team. Are they included in the full business decision-making processes, or seen as substitutes in the absence of others?
  • Is your bench strong enough to play a strategic role, regularly?

Watch a professional team game, and observe how the coach moves players on and off the pitch, when, and with what impact. Don’t let your talent bench become the substitutes’ bench.

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