Here are my final thoughts on talent, what do you think? I was watching the Six Nations Rugby Tournament recently, and was fascinated with the way the coaches used the full squad of players. This was no random process, nor was it simply to try out another player. There was a clear plan to bring specific players into the game at a specific time.
I watched England vs Italy and what I noticed was the strength of the players on the England bench made the difference. There wasn’t much difference in the performance of either side until the England coach started to use his bench strength, then the momentum of the game moved towards England. It got me thinking that most of us in People Development talk about ‘bench-strength’, but we may not be clear what it really means or how to use it.
Players on the bench are there for a purpose. They come into the game at specific planned times:
- Players cannot always play at top speed for a full game, so players come on to keep the pressure on. Two players often share the same position and train together, one player starts with the aim of tiring the opponent ready for when his team-mate comes on.
- A key player with a special skill is sent onto the pitch at a specific time and makes a big difference.
- When a new player with high potential needs some experience for a short, managed piece of time.
In the modern game, it is difficult for players to keep up the extreme level of intensity required in a full game, so the starting players are not the same as the finishing players, yet they see themselves as one team squad. They are not first team and reserve players.
In Talent Management we talk about building bench-strength. What often happens is that employees are told they are in the Talent Pool, and then:
- Nothing happens
- Or, they are thrown in with no chance to find their way of working
- Have no access to significant projects where they can learn
- Get sent to a ‘problem area’ to ‘show what they can do’
What we can learn from the Sports Coach is this:
- Bench-players are used as a strategy to maintain performance. Do you consider who to bring in, and when to move someone out of a team, as the conditions change? Or do you leave the same team for continuity – but accept that they get tired and run out of options? Moving people in and out it not about the success and failure of the individual. It is about recognizing an individual has done a job, and needs to move out, ready for the next challenge.
- New, high potential members are given specific experiences for short periods. Do you place new talent into a team for a limited, managed exposure, or do you ‘throw them in, sink or swim’?
- Impact players are saved for when they can make a difference. Do you know who your impact players are, what they can do that makes a difference, and use them carefully but at maximum impact? Often a high performer is given the wrong assignment and does not enjoy it. Impact players are not good at everything, they do have allowable weaknesses. However they are sent in when they can do their special talents.
- Leaders need to know when to pull a player out of the game and use someone from the talent pool. Are you aware of how your team is feeling? Can you monitor their emotional and even physical state? Are you sure you know what exposure your new talent needs?
- The full squad is part of the planning discussions and strategy. Do you included your talented people in the business decision-making processes? When they are moved into a role, they will understand the plan and discussions that led to it.
- Is your bench strong enough to play a strategic role, regularly?
Watch a professional team game, and observe how the coach moves players on and off the pitch, why, when, and with what impact.