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In sports, a team’s success is linked to its bench strength – the players on the bench who can seamlessly jump in and replace a player who is pulled due to injury or some other reason. Professional football teams don’t go into games with only one quarterback and baseball teams have players on the bench in case someone goes on the disabled list. It should be the same in business, where bench strength refers to the readiness of potential successors to move into key professional and leadership positions and the ability to bring on workers quickly when needed. It is critically important because organizations continuously go through turnover, restructuring and changes in business strategy.
Whenever a key person leaves – whether a leader or an individual contributor – the organization should have a ready successor or a plan for replacement that will avoid business interruption. “Knowing where to build a bench lineup in your organization requires a systematic effort to ensure continuity, retain and develop intellectual and knowledge capital for the future, and encourage individual advancement,” says Bill Hyman, vice president of human resources at CDI. “That means identifying strategic positions that are critical to the company’s competitive advantage and/or are specific to your industry niche, and those which require high learning agility.”
Hyman offers these suggestions to ensure that your team is ready when it’s time to call on your bench:
Set your strategic direction. Start with your current mission. Is your company able to achieve its stated goals and objectives with your current team? Consider carefully your one-, three- and five-year plan and assess the talent you have on board in light of those plans. Your organization needs a game plan outlining processes, deadlines and directions for completing tasks. Ideally, departments should identify critical roles and have a strategy for each, including areas that may require the use of contract employees. Fostering strategic thinking in your people can help them increase their effectiveness in their current roles, while also preparing them to take on more responsibility in the future.
Make knowledge sharing routine. Encourage participation by both permanent and long-term contingent employees in projects, teams, task forces and committees. Develop a methodology for cross-functional training, which really pays off when a key player is absent, making it easier for other team members to step in. These tactics have the added benefit of providing your team with fresh perspectives and encouraging process improvement. Additionally, when routine knowledge sharing becomes part of the company’s culture, it breaks down silos and employees learn from others across the company, resulting in a stronger, more cohesive workforce. This will be especially important as we approach a labor market that is increasingly comprised of Millennials who seek mentorship and knowledge transfer from senior colleagues. Millennials will be most attracted to employers that can demonstrate a culture of collaboration and the opportunity to interact with different people at various levels in the organization.
Develop talent pools and succession plans. Succession planning is especially important not only because of senior leadership that will eventually retire, but also because your most valued employees make up the group most at risk of leaving for another opportunity, particularly in today’s candidate-driven market. This process may involve both hiring early career talent, identifying and developing high-potential employees, and even looking at your contingent workers as potential additions to your permanent staff. Analyze the strengths and weaknesses of your current organization, including the available talent pool. Put in place a formal evaluation process that allows all levels to communicate their interests, strengths and areas that need improvement. This will help you to understand your bench strength, skills and talent gaps and determine whether critical positions have one or more persons ready to successfully assume the role and responsibility of each position.
Don’t go it alone. If you have to look outside your organization to find qualified talent, consider engaging a search firm and/or staffing company that specializes in your niche. This will give you access to their roster of potential candidates, who are often passive candidates you cannot easily reach on your own, and to qualified contingent workers who can hit the ground running. Be prepared for more competition for the best people. Scrutinize your current hiring practices and procedures and overhaul them if they are cumbersome and prolong the hiring process. It’s also important to be interviewing top talent even when you don’t have a specific need. You may even find that you want to create a position for a potential candidate before the need is critical.
Clearly, building sustainable bench strength must be part of an organization-wide talent management program with career planning woven into the process. It sets the growth course, increases employee retention, reduces gaps and develops future leaders for success. It is an ongoing, dynamic process that helps an organization keep pace with changes in the business, industry, and overall marketplace.
“To stay ahead of the game, current leadership must continually have its finger on the pulse of business needs and make talent pipeline management part of the company culture,” says Hyman. “They must concentrate on developing a strategy for an ongoing, flexible talent management process. By doing this, organizations can ensure they have the right talent in the right place at the right time with a committed bench of players in their blended workforce that will keep them on top of their game for seasons to come.”
Recent CDI Analysis
“Knowing where to build a bench lineup in your organization … means identifying strategic positions that are critical to the company’s competitive advantage and/or are specific to your industry niche, and those which require high learning agility.”Bill Hyman
Vice President, Human Resources
Employment Situation (U.S.)
One month ahead of the December meeting of the Federal Reserve and just four days before the U.S. presidential election, the employment report for October looked stable. Though the jobs report came in just below expectations, it held steady adding 161,000 nonfarm roles, according to the October Employment Situation released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate remained at 4.9 percent, a level it has maintained for more than 12 months.
Following a revised growth of 191,000 jobs for the month of September, the economy looks strong heading into the final quarter of the year, according to The New York Times. Though the unemployment rate remained relatively unchanged in October, it did drop one-tenth of a percentage point, according to the BLS. Also notable was average hourly earnings, climbing 10 cents in October and 8 cents the month previous to increase 2.8 percent year over year. It has been more than eight years since that level of growth was achieved, noted The New York Times.
September was not the only jobs report that was revised. Figures for August were also modified, bringing the average employment growth over the last three months to 176,000.
The professional and business services, and financial activities sectors accounted for a large portion of jobs that were added in October. Within the professional and business services sector 43,000 positions were created, predominantly in computer systems design and related services, and in management and technical consulting services. The two sub sectors added 8,000 and 5,000 jobs, respectively. The financial activities sector continued its positive growth trend, adding 14,000 jobs overall and 8,000 among insurance carriers and related activities.
Job growth in other industries including mining, construction, manufacturing, wholesale trade, retail trade, transportation and warehousing, information, and government were relatively unchanged over the month.
The need for skilled workers still remains. According to Bloomberg, figures from an Institute for Supply Management survey indicated that among the service-industry job market, hiring managers have had difficulty finding qualified employees for more than a year now. Work in this sector accounts for nearly 90 percent of the economy.
"As [the pool of talent] continues to tighten up, firms are going to have to resort more and more to more attractive pay to draw people in," Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities LLC in New York, told Bloomberg just prior to the release of the October report. "We’re pretty close to full employment."
According to The Wall Street Journal, Fed officials have said that the two jobs reports released before its end-of-year meeting, including the October report, are unlikely to sway an interest rate hike decision. Though officials at the meeting this week noted interest in observing stronger economic growth before making a final decision, The Wall Street Journal noted that the recent jobs report would have had to have been quite disappointing to really change any minds.
As for the recent election, the October employment situation remains up for interpretation though most analysts do not anticipate any significant impact on the outcome.
"This is right down the middle of the fairway," Vincent Reinhart, chief economist at Standish Mellon, told The New York Times. "The main message is from the payroll report: Jobs are being created and earnings are going up."
The full Bureau of Labor Statistics report can be downloaded by
Employment Situation (Canada)
Though the Canadian economy added an unexpectedly high number of jobs in October and hit a third straight month of growth, employment gains were all part-time. According to The Financial Post, economist predictions had the labour force losing as many as 15,000 positions last month, and though full-time work did shed 23,100 employees, it was offset by a jump in part-time work. The figures released by Statistics Canada, were not enough to improve the unemployment rate of 7 per cent, noted the source.
With the decline in full-time work and the addition of 67,100 jobs in the part-time sector, total job creation for the month of October came in at 44,000 positions. Overall, the report was seen as positive by analysts though they believe it would have been more promising had there been some sort of growth among full-time workers, according to The Globe and Mail.
Over the year, only 16,000 of the 140,000 jobs created have been full-time. The biggest blow in regards to this data has been to males between the age of 25 and 54, a demographic that has lost 63,000 full-time jobs over the year.
Leading the job growth in Canada was the construction industry, according to Statistics Canada. Last month the sector created 24,000 new jobs and year-over-year gains were up by 3.4 per cent to reach a total of 47,000 positions. Close behind was wholesale and retail trade, followed by "other services" which encompasses civic and professional organizations and repair and maintenance. The "other services" sector added 18,000 employees in October to reach 2.8 per cent year-over-year growth.
For the first time since the spring of 2015, the natural resources sector saw an advance in employment, adding 10,000 jobs. This comes after a shaky second quarter that hurt oil production, noted The Financial Post. As oil prices have stabilized and job growth continues to be steady, however, the economy in Canada is looking brighter.
Public administration, educational services and private-sector employment all saw growth last month, lending to an uptick in the job market that remained plenty diverse.
"The gains were in paid hiring rather than self-employment and [were] well distributed across both goods and services," Avery Shenfeld, chief economist at CIBC World Markets, told The Financial Post.
Canadian ES Report:
Labour Force Survey, October 2016