Businessman exercising with dumbbells and working on a computer

Building Bench Strength in 2023

As I walked into the training center of a large oil company a few years ago, an unfamiliar face greeted me. “Hi, I’m Dale,” he said. “I hope somebody has already told you where to go and has discussed setup, because I have no idea.”

“Jessie’s out today?” I asked. My client contact hadn’t told me he wouldn’t be doing the typical introduction to my session.

“Jessie’s gone. But he’ll be back in 30 days––probably at twice his old salary.”

Dale noticed my puzzled expression and continued to explain: “Friday was his last day…. He left a big gap. Been here 35 years…. He taught most all the executive-level programs.”

“Hmmm. I didn’t know that.”

“Yep. He walked out with about 50 courses.” Dale gestured toward his own graying temples. “All up here. In his head. No time to write leader guides. So now that he’s gone, we’re having to hire him back as a consultant to collect and record all that knowledge.”

Such situations haven’t changed all that much. Despite technology advances, blending learning, and ongoing efforts to build content databases across the organization, erosion and loss still happen.

Okay, so you’ve heard it before—the mandate to build bench strength on your team.

The update: We’ve moved to the red-alert stage!


Why You Need to Build Bench Strength Now

Baby Boomers continue to leave the workforce in droves, and that exit will last until 2030. Routine retirements take 1.3 million Americans (age 64 and older) out of the workforce each year, and another 630,000 left in 2022 because of early retirement.

And those who don’t retire, don’t plan to quit quitting any time soon. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly one-third of all workers changed jobs in 2022. The situation may be more critical this year. According to a survey cited in Fortune (Dec 21, 2022), nearly half of workers say they plan to find a new job in 2023.

Despite inflation and a potential recession looming ahead, others on your team are likely keeping their resumes updated just in case a position offering better pay, greater fulfillment, expanded flexibility, or more growth opportunities pops up on the horizon.

Of course, you already have long-term strategies for building bench strength five- or ten years out—increased diversity, benefits to appeal to the five generations in the workforce, skills-based recruitment efforts versus experience-based recruitment. (You do have those plans in place, right? Of course, you do; you’re at the top of your game!)

So strategies aside, the following ideas should help with the immediate day-to-day tactical headaches of unexpected resignations and the operational glitches that result:

  • Formalize mentoring programs, linking executives with younger high-potentials, for bi-directional help. Current articles talk of “self-coaching.” But not all workers fall into the self-starter category. Just as Broadway directors hire understudies for their performances, make sure your mentoring programs include discussions critical to the organization as well as those topics beneficial to the mentee. Also, communicate to those in the mentoring program that mentoring sessions should be bi-directional—with younger employees mentoring executives on complex IT issues and the like.


  • Document processes and do periodic audits to update changes in a process. These processes should be captured online so that updating happens easily and quickly. In a hybrid workplace and where employees come and go unexpectedly, those remaining staffers “picking up the slack” must be able to carry on with minimal training/information AND without undue stress as they finish interrupted projects.


  • Build and distribute resource directories, arranged by specialty, of approved AND potential new suppliers (independent consultants, contractors, and temp organizations). Department heads or project leads should be able to access these resources immediately to outsource a project or assignment when a worker leaves.


  • Give more than lip-service to employee well-being if you expect to retain workers. Leadership models must change to embrace listening, coaching, feedback, empathy, AND emphasis on healthful living (rest, exercise, healthy diet). Younger professionals have been educated on healthy-living habits and expect that their employer will provide effective well-being programs and benefits.


  • Modify your CRM system with a SAAD template for every worker to use when recording current client interactions—especially as you embrace hybrid work and job-sharing arrangements. When employees physically “walk the halls,” many details get shared in pass-by interactions or at the water cooler. But with people working from home, they must depend on details that actually get entered into your CRM. Make those details complete, clear, and easy to skim.


S = Summary: 1- or 2-sentence overview of the client/coworker interaction or situation
A = Action Taken. State what you’ve done to correct a problem or move a project forward.

A = Action Pending. List next steps that either you or another person plans to take, based on the summary.

D = Details. Add pertinent details to help someone understand what has been done or needs to be done to follow up in the situation (in case the writer of SAAD gets hit by the proverbial bus).


Definitely this task of making clear, concise notes to increase personal productivity companywide (saving both writing and reading time) is NOT a tactical task that should be turned over to ChatGPT!


  • Identify what your own staff can stop doing temporarily to lighten the load in the department and beyond. Guaranteed—you’ll hear no complaints on this idea!


So what do you need either to start or stop (or speed up, if already in process)?


Learn more ways to work with your team to build core strengths with Communicate Like a Leader: Connecting Strategically to Coach, Inspire, and Get Things Done

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