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Filling the 5 Talent Benches

Authored by: Managing Partners Roger Pearman and Robert Eichinger

The talent bench. Everyone is concerned about whether they’ll have enough talent sitting on the back-up bench to replace exiting top managers. It’s a matter of how many. Do we have enough to fill expected and unexpected openings? How good are they? Are they equal to or better than the top managers they will replace?

Organizations flourish or stumble partly (or maybe mostly) by the talent, or lack of it, at the top. Continuity for flourishing is dependent upon having ready talent on the bench waiting for their opportunities.

Talent Management and, specifically, Succession Planning involve the acquisition of the early-in-career right talent which, when deployed and developed properly, can become legendary future leaders and top managers of a long term, flourishing enterprise.

We have detailed elsewhere that it is a 30-year journey from a 20-year-old intern with promise, into an exemplar, top 10%, 50-year-old top leader. Many players are responsible to see that this happens on schedule.

The good news is that we know exactly how to do this. The bad news is that many times, and in many places, it is not being done right and this leaves organizations constantly short of talent on the leadership bench.

Potential and Protential

People of talent (High Potentials and Protentials) are those that can grow and develop the critical skills needed beyond their present capabilities to fit comfortably into senior roles in the medium- and long-term future. People with promise have the aptitude,  interest and motivation to grow and prosper. They have the capability and willingness to learn the lessons of life and work along the way, and they seek, and are provided, the opportunities to grow.

These early-in-career talents are commonly referred to as High Potentials and High Protentials. While High Potentials have the capacity to evolve into an array of senior leadership roles, High Protentials are those individuals with a capacity to be the absolute best in their chosen field. For example, a High Protential may not only be an extraordinary Financial Analyst, but the absolute best in the field with capabilities at financial insights most will never understand.

Both High Potentials (on the way to a top job) and High Protentials (on the way to the top of a specialty) need the opportunity to grow and develop. Potential just remains potential without growth opportunities.

Potential for What?

A common question posed (especially by those who are critical of succession planning) is “potential for what?” It’s for whatever is needed in the future at the top of the enterprise to flourish.

So, what is needed, and Potential and Protential for what? It’s about learning and growing. It’s the potential to grow when provided the opportunities on the path to highly responsible, increasingly complex and material top leadership posts.

What top leadership posts? The posts that are among the very few in which most of the material and consequential decisions in organizations get made. Board membership.  The C-Suite. Top General Managers. Top functional and geographic posts. Top technical wizards.

Potential to do what? To solve the problems and make the material and consequential decisions leading to the enterprise consistently flourishing.

SORTIng Your Talent

Part of the process is to sort people of early promise and talent, both Potentials and Protentials, and then develop them accordingly. People can and should be evaluated and sorted relative to the 5 SORTI Talent Futures, each with its own characteristics:

The 5 Talent Futures Primary Focus Workforce % Maintenance
Efforts for
Future S Strategists, Visionaries, Dreamers 3-5% (few) High
Future O Operators, Executers, Doers,Planners 5-10% (some) Low
Future R Relationship builders & managers, Shepherds, Guardians, Caretakers 10-15% (some) Middle
Future T Top Technologists of whatever is central to the work product(s) of the enterprise 2-5% (rare!) High
Future I International Executives, expatriates; leading outside one’s home country 5% High


Future Ss — Strategists, Visionaries and Dreamers.

This is a small, select group of people who can strategically lead. They tend to be creative and innovative, are reasonable risk takers with broad perspective and marketplace futures vision. They are change creators (less change managers). They propose disruptive initiatives.

Roles for which you might deploy Future S talent: CEO, Strategic Planning, Business Development, Marketing, R&D and M&A. These candidates are a bit hard to manage. They don’t exactly follow the rules. They are more loyal to ideas than companies. They bounce around in their careers, follow diverse interests, and are attracted to tough challenges at the strategic level. They are big picture thinkers. They can be high maintenance, requiring lots of effort to further their development.

Future Os – Operators, Executors, Doers, Planners.

These are the people that get the things done that the S leaders create. Generally, Future O talent plan for the new adventures, the goals and associated targets. These leaders put high value on doing things right– the first time and every time. They use budgets, agendas, procedures, process feedback loops, blockchain, checklists, 6-sigma, ISO, digital assets to run and track, and they get great things done on time and within budget.

There are two kinds of Future O talent: General Managers and functional heads. You can find the general management talent in senior P&L roles such as COO, division heads, geographical leads and business sector leaders. Their functions might be in HR, Finance (CFO), Logistics, Sales, Manufacturing, IT, R&D and Facilities. They may have spent their entire career growing and developing within the same area. They are typically easier to manage.

Future Rs – Relationship Builders and Managers: Shepherds, Caretakers, Guardians, Satisfiers.

This pool of talent excels at customer service and management of both others and processes. There are three kinds of Future R talent: (1) Those that serve in retail, direct customer contact, service and problem solving (live or virtually), (2) Those in B2B customer care that deal with organizational customers, contract management, vendors, servicing and problem solving, and (3) A specialized type of talent that services shareholders, institutional investors, government regulators and VIP visitors.

S, O, and R are the three main pools of talent every enterprise needs to both perform now and flourish forever. They craft compelling and on-target strategy which gets executed well and with great care of stakeholders. They can require moderate efforts in maintenance, and in furthering their development.

Future Ts – The fourth Talent need is deep, Technical talent.  Every enterprise has one or more foundational, technical cores that must be ‘best in class’ to prosper and flourish. The cores can be organic chemistry, quantum physics, social media, AI and VR, farm operations, sports, finance or another specialty. It doesn’t take many high Technicals to lead with expertise, but they have to be among the top 10% in their field. The Ts are usually in R&D (more R than D) but sometimes sit in a top functional role. They are in demand, hard to find, hard to manage, and difficult to retain. And they are expensive. If you are not paying them at a competitive level, someone else will.

Future Is – International Talent

Not every organization operates in a multi-national environment. For those that do, they need top 10% International talent.

A strong I is a hybrid player who is consistently successful across continents, countries and geographies. Strong Is are rare. Being the general manager of a business or service line across cultures, regulations, political systems, business models and languages is a big mountain to climb. Working in multiple countries and posts outside one’s home base is the test. Not only do you need to be at the top in S, O and/or R, you have to have cultural agility and resourcefulness.

Finding and developing those interested and skilled enough to be successful expatriates is very difficult.

The Talent That is Needed, and Their Value

You need at least four, and perhaps five Talent Sets in proportion and context to the needs of the enterprise to flourish consistently over time. And every 7 to 10 years, most at the top have to be replaced due to retirement, departure or significant stumbles.

Combinations (very good at more than one SORTI element) are quite rare, though it’s not unusual to find an exemplar S who gets by at O and R, or exemplar Os and Rs who get by at S.

It is best to manage each Talent Set differently and build them into exemplars in their own Talent Lanes. Studies consistency find that these exemplars, verified Potentials and Protentials, return 250% of the typical employee value to their organizations.

Beware: The mindset and effort which believes that everyone can be developed into a general, 5-talent SORTI leader is a fool’s errand.

Bob Eichinger and Roger Pearman are succession planning experts and the Co-Founders of TalentTelligent, LLC, a talent management consultancy and publisher of level-specific surveys and development resources for use across any organization’s full talent lifecycle. Combined they have published more than 100 books, articles, research studies, assessment and development products and apps over distinguished careers that include serving 100s of the world’s most recognized and respected organizations.

Learn more by viewing Robert Eichinger present on this topic!

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