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ATD Blog

Building Bench Strength in 2023

Friday, February 24, 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 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 of the executive-level programs.”

“Hmmm. I didn’t know that.”

“Yep. He walked out with about 50 courses.” Dale gestured toward his 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 technological advances, blending learning, and ongoing efforts to build content databases across the organization, erosion and loss still happen.

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!


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 are left in 2022 because of early retirement.

And those who don’t retire don’t plan to quit any time soon. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 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 (December 21, 2022), nearly half of the workers plan to find a new job in 2023.

Despite inflation and a potential recession looming ahead, others on your team will likely keep their resumes updated 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 10 years out—increased diversity, benefits to appeal to the five generations in the workforce, and 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 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, ensure your mentoring programs include discussions critical to the organization and those topics beneficial to the mentee. Also, communicate to those in the mentoring program that mentoring sessions should be bi-directional. For example, junior employees with less leadership experience might be tapped to mentor senior executives on technical issues.
  • 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 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, and a healthy diet). Younger professionals are educated on healthy-living habits and expect 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 client interactions—especially as you embrace hybrid work and job-sharing arrangements. When employees physically “walk the halls,” many details are shared in pass-by interactions or at the water cooler. But with people working from home, they must depend on details entered into your CRM. Make those details complete, clear, and easy to skim.

S = Summary. Create a one-or-two-sentence overview of the client or 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 the 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 must be done to follow up on the situation (in case the writer of SAAD gets hit by the proverbial bus).

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!

  • Prioritize and then offer your efforts to department heads needing help with tactical tasks they dread or don’t do well. This includes meeting facilitation, hiring interviews, and mapping processes to reduce steps. These tasks increase the manager’s stress level, leading to burnout. Consider these “going-the-extra-mile” HR efforts to improve employee development and retention.
  • Identify what your staff can stop doing temporarily to lighten the load in the HR department and beyond. Guaranteed—you’ll hear no complaints about this idea!

So, what do you need to start or stop (or speed up if already in process)? For help with both the big-picture strategies and tactical plans, grab a copy of the latest ATD Handbook.

About the Author

Dianna Booher is author of Faster, Fewer, Better Emails and Communicate Like a Leader.

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