Talent in Business
The theme of hiring, motivating, nurturing, developing and retaining Talent is surely common to all business.
I started my career as an analyst in a strategy consulting business (OC&C Strategy Consultants) and went on to be a partner; so in that environment I have both been 'the Talent' and been responsible for developing 'the Talent'. The consulting approach to talent management is very simple and empirically very successful. In that world you find the smartest young things (academic over-achievers who can demonstrate an intuitive feel for business and a structured approach to problem solving) and you (implicitly) offer them the following deal:
- You'll get well paid; you'll get well trained; you'll be on a constant rapid learning curve; you'll get to be involved in deals you read about in the (business pages) of the papers; we will support you to maximise your productive time. We will make you look good, feel good and be proud of what you do.
- We will 'own' you for the next few years of your professional life. You will find you are no longer 'comfortably the smartest person in the room' and this will make you insecure; we will use that insecurity to drive you to work harder; we will keep increasing the work-load you are given until you can't take any more (and only then will we back off); you will work harder than you have ever worked in your life.
Strategy Consulting may be one of the more extreme examples of a 'talent driven' business -- but anybody involved in managing and growing businesses will (or should) have some version of the above 'Faustian pact' in place. You seek to identify and nurture talent; you make a (normally implicit) deal with that talent; you succeed or fail on your ability to identify, develop, exploit* and retain that talent.
Talent in Sport
From the perspective of an interested but largely peripheral observer, the parallels with developing a pro-sports team appear striking to me -- let me repeat the 'deal' outlined above and see how much tweaking is required to fit this to the sporting world
- You'll get (well) paid: in many cases simply being a professional sportsman meets the financial objective here
- You will get well trained and be on a constant rapid learning curve: In the last few weeks the Endura Racing guys have been lining up and holding their own alongside seasoned Tour pros ... and are being coached by Olympic and World Championship medallists.
- You will get to be involved in deals you read about in the (business pages) of the papers: Substitute 'deals' for 'races' and 'sports for 'business' and you are there -- next week the guys are competing in 'la Vuelta a Murcia' lining up alongside Armstrong, Contador et al
- We will support you to maximise your productive time. That's what being in a pro-team and being looked after on trainng camps is all about
- We will make you look good, feel good and be proud of what you do. Well, they are wearing Endura kit, riding top-end hardware and being well covered in the cycling press so they should!
In return for which
- We will 'own' you for the next few years of your professional life. Of course you don't 'own' your riders (particulalry in an environment where individuals have Commonwealth, Olympic and World Champioship objectives and National Coaches to satisfy) ... but we are certainly looking to develop the riders while getting the best possible exposure of and representation for the Endura brand
- You will find you are no longer 'comfortably the smartest person in the room' and this will make you insecure; we will use that insecurity to drive you to work harder. Switch 'smartest' for 'fittest' and this summarise perfectly how (hopefully) the step up to being in a competitve pro-team will lift the riders training work-load, motivation and ultimately performance
- We will keep increasing the work-load you are given until you can't take any more (and only then will we back off); you will work harder than you have ever worked in your life. Again, for 'work' read 'riding' and this is surely what being in a pro-team is all about
The Common Lessons
I don't want to stretch the idea too far here or become overly prescriptive; let me make a couple of simple observations though;
- Business people developing talent could do worse than read what David Brailsford has had to say about motivating athletes and building a team structure
- Directeurs Sportives (or Sports Team Managers more generally) could learn a lot from the discplines that exist when it comes to developing talent in business (how about formalised appraisal processes and written reviews? Explicit 'promotion' objectives? Mentoring programmes?)
* Used here in the non-perjorative sense: to utilize, esp. for profit; turn to practical account ... to advance or further through exploitation; promote