Every year in Indianapolis, the NFL holds its talent scouting combine leading up to the annual NFL draft. For NFL teams, it is their opportunity to identify future team members who can play a role in creating a winning franchise.  

In the NFL and other professional sports, owners know without question that the talent they have is a game-changer and provides their competitive advantage. Whether it’s using a scouting combine or other talent spotting activities, the most successful franchises always have an eye on the future. They have a built-in rigor and core process to continually assess their depth, renew their team, and make sure they have the right players in the right positions at the right times.  

Regardless of whether it is the next game or the next season, they ask themselves the following questions and many more:

  • What will it take to win on the field next year? 
  • What changes will it take to create a more successful team? What talent or roles do we need to add? 
  • What players no longer fit or are close to moving on? What is our back-up plan for these positions?
  • What is required for our lesser-experienced players to be ready to step up? What development? What experiences? 

Strategic talent management in professional sports is a business imperative every season, and it is built into how franchises think and work.  Here is the learning: outside of sports, having the right people in the right roles at the right times is just as important to a business winning and losing; however, the rigor and discipline around strategic talent management is often not as strong nor is it seen as a business imperative every year. And one could argue, the risks of losing in business are much greater than in the professional sports arena. 

Strategic talent management is a core process that every company should embrace. When done well, the benefits of the process are two-fold. For the business, it supports a deep supply of talent to meet business needs, especially future-ready leaders and future business builders. For employees, it promotes short and long-term career development, growth opportunities/experiences, engagement, and retention. The effective execution on both sides creates the fusion of getting the right people into the right roles at the right times, which ultimately provides the company with a significant competitive advantage.  

Step One.
The first element of strategic talent management is knowing your strategy and making sure you have the eye to the future. With the level of disruption and the rapid acceleration of change in using technology for coordination, collaboration, and remote work due to COVID-19, nearly all businesses are contemplating what their next two or three years could look like from a strategy perspective, asking questions like:  

  • What does success look like in the future? 
  • What will it take to get to the next level and what opportunities can we seize?
  • How will our competitive advantage change or how will it need to evolve?
  • How do we reimagine or reinvent the business model, customer experience, products or services? 

When those questions are answered, the next critical step is to identify the talent implications for each answer and strategy that may emerge. Why? Because we already have a team, and leaders often make one faulty assumption: the team that got us here can get us there.  

It may. It also may not. The key is to go back to the core talent management process and ask the following critical questions to uncover the talent implications for each strategic element or initiative:

  1. Based on our strategy, what do we want the company to look like and grow like in the next six months, twelve months, or two years? Describe it as vividly as you can and write it down – outcomes, actions, sources of growth, leadership, knowledge/capabilities, interactions with clients, team collaboration and coordination, etc. 
  2. What does the ideal team look like that will deliver these outcomes? As hard as it may be, start with a blank sheet of paper and be candid! Consider the ideal org chart, leadership, roles, skills, behaviors, etc. Again – write it down and draw it out with no constraints.
  3. Finally, and only after the first two, discuss this question: How does the current team stack up to what we need to be successful? How does each person fit? Do we have the right people in the right roles? If not, how much time do we have to get there and what will it take? Identify alignment, gaps, development needs, sources for new talent, shifts or changes needed, etc., and what it will take to get there.

As a leader of a team or your own “franchise”, how often are you asking these questions? Do you ask them “every season” and are they “part of how you think and work”? Developing a discipline of asking these strategic questions on an annual basis, and consistently with any new strategic initiative, ensures you will field the best team.  

As noted, this strategy element is just Step One in Strategic Talent Management. Our upcoming newsletters and blog posts will examine the remaining steps in this core process, including how to invest in the players you field to create a sustainable organization. 

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