Personal Development Boards – AKA The Bench

Who do you turn to?

Rainbow bench.jpg

 A personal development board, AKA The bench, is a group of people standing behind you, supporting you, keeping you on track, guiding, challenging and stretching you.  It’s an additional set of eyes, ears and when necessary a mouthpiece.  It allows you to get the value of perspectives outside your own organisation, often your own industry, from others with a range of experiences to draw on.

The reality

Our experience is that very few people have a fully developed bench, but at some point everyone will need one.  Unfortunately the point at which we realise we need the support it provides, but see it’s missing, is often the worst moment, when the pressure’s on or a difficult decision needs to be made in a short period of time.

Most people we know are still at the stage where they are developing their bench.  It’s often prompted by not having an answer to a question, and wondering who to turn to.  People turn to their line managers, but can realise, for various reasons that that person is not the right one.

The good news is the people to make up your bench are often ready and waiting.

A senior executive in the fashion industry we’ve worked with rose to the top of her industry through personal grit and determination, with little or no support.  But who was on her bench?  Lots of great people, without her ever realising they were there to draw on. 

Not using our bench

When it comes to your bench, the relationships are frequently there, but often we don’t utilise these people as much as we could do, or at all…

 This can happen for a number of reasons:

-      We don’t recognise that we need a bench until it’s too late

-      We don’t put the effort into the relevant relationships at the right time so that they can be drawn on when necessary

-      We don’t formalise the relationships when they do exist

-      We don’t feel comfortable reaching out

-      We don’t want to hear the hard truths a bench might bring

Bench benefits

The benefit of a bench becomes clear when you think about the different roles of the people on it:

Coach – someone who helps you with specific areas of your performance

Collaborator – someone in a similar situation to you, who you can work with on ideas and goals

Connector – someone who connects you with others, and makes you more visible

Counsellor – someone who provides emotional support

Encourager – someone who motivates you and gives you recognition for your achievements

Mentor – someone with experience who gives long term support, guidance and shares wisdom

Clearly people on your bench might fill more than one of these roles; a counsellor is often an encourager, a collaborator might also be able to connect you to others.

What is important though is not to rely on only one or two people to fill all the roles.  Develop the relationships that allow you to draw on a number of people.

You might wonder why someone would want to be on your bench, but the feedback we receive from people in exactly those roles is that it’s a very satisfying “job” to have.  It feels great seeing people you care for develop and knowing that you’ve helped them, often during their most challenging times.

Taking action

If you, like many, have realised that you need to put some time and energy into developing your bench, here are our suggestions:

1.    Get going on it now – don’t put action off until you’re desperate for help

2.    Look at the 6 different roles, and start to fill them – think about who you know whom you already draw on, consider which roles they play, any blank spaces you have and who could fill them

3.    Get in contact with people – reach out, meet and talk about your situation, and sound them out about whether they are happy to have a role in your career

4.    Formalise the relationship – be clear about how they help you, and also about how you can help them in return

5.    Nurture your bench, keep it ready and in place – make the time to stay in touch with your bench, updating them on your progress

6.    A final thought… who’s bench do you or could you sit on?