Eight months after we spent four hours on the phone procuring tickets, I finally was able to see the musical Hamilton. The energy around the whole neighborhood in Chicago was electric, with people in both blue jeans and fur coats posing for selfies outside the theatre marquee. And yes, all the hype is warranted.
I was surprised that at a Saturday evening production, we had the understudies for two of the main roles: Eliza Hamilton and Aaron Burr. As it turned out, our favorite two actors and those we thought had the strongest voices were — you guessed it — the actors who were Eliza and Burr. And the weakest link in the whole show, in our opinion, was the regular lead of Alexander himself.
The theatre is one of the masters of succession planning. They have cross-trained and prepared standby performers for all of their positions, and not just in a token way. The so-called “second string” is first rate, and able to assume the responsibilities in look, sound and function.
There are lessons your organization can learn from the theatre. Having more than one person trained in a role is costly and time-consuming, but allows for “non-stop” functioning of the work, and also allows the cast to “take a break.” I would guess that knowing someone else is in the wings keeps the leads on their toes, and provides an incentive for the understudies to do well when they are asked to appear.
What can your organization do to increase its performance depth? Having understudies for your key positions is as smart as the banking system that Hamilton first created.