Contrary to popular beliefs, most executives I meet have a short runway to focus on execution, performance and results. There is more pressure than ever to perform and long-term strategies are giving up their spotlight to the perceived ability of any executives to deliver results quickly. As such, many that I know are thinking more about the next 18 months than they are the next 3-5 years! Is there a bigger vision in place – sure. But take a closer look at where they’re investing and its often focused on how can I maximize the return on current assets.
One such asset that seems to get neglected is a deep bench! Want proof of a valuable bench? Look at any professional sports team that continues to succeed after a number of injuries to the starting lineup (the opposite end of the spectrum would be our Atlanta Falcons Football Team who went from 13-3 to 4-12 the next season due to 2-3 key injuries and we had no bench!)
So here is a simple question for an insane conversation, particularly with an executive:
How’s Your Bench, Really?
If you don’t know me by now, I’ll let you in on a secret – it’s a loaded question, seldom with an easy answer. Here’s why:
1. That question is a moving target. You could have a great bench today, but it’s only as strong as its weakest link. Your head of M&A is leaving. Your head of marketing is still thinking billboards vs. Pinterest and behavior-based marketing. Your head of sales should have been replaced 3 years ago because he doesn’t like to go see clients!
2. Your immediate reports are strong, but not much depth beyond that. Leadership skills, capabilities, and professional growth must cascade down and across the organization. Many execs surround themselves with sharp performers, but go 1-2 level deeper and the rest are B and C players at best. Any one of the immediate direct reports leave and you’ve got a gaping hole in that function or realm of responsibilities!
3. Your response tells me a lot about you as a leader. How you arrive at your answers tells me whether you genuinely believe in and are readily utilizing quantifiable performance metrics; also whether you are investing in one of your biggest organizational assets: its human capital. The thoughtfulness in your response tells me how you feel about culture as a strategic priority. Your tone tells me whether you’re defensive or humble and may be open to outside council. The outcome you describe tells me whether you feel a sense of ownership or are abdicating your responsibilities in this critical area.
Bonus – your bench doesn’t have to be employees within the organization. The free-agent-nation is strong, vibrant and ready to contribute to your desired outcomes. Are you savvy enough to go at least 3 levels deep in the 10 fundamental facets of your business?
Bottom line – your conversation will be a heck of a lot more interesting than the moronic and often an intellectually lazy question many ask: “what keeps you up at night?” I’ve always wanted to respond: “Heartburn! You’ve got a solution for that?”
Make it a great week.