Is Your Corporate Talent Management Like the NFL or MLB?
5 Parallels Between Sports Teams and Businesses
The months-long NFL lockout just ended and the MLB trade deadline has just passed, both of which resulted in a dizzying spell of player deals that would make any HR exec’s head spin for months. How many company executives do you know who go on a binge buying spree like that of managers and owners of professional sports teams? What if your corporate talent management strategy resembled that of an NFL or MLB team?
Insert cliché here. I know, you’re probably tired of reading the sports analogies for business, but can you imagine two CEOs getting together to make a deal like those seen in late July? I’ll give you my head of IT for your head of marketing plus a few junior people and some cash. Will that work? Incredible.
To celebrate these pro-sport HR moves, let’s examine five aspects of player moves and how they relate to corporate talent management.
1. Win today or plan for your future?
Some teams operate as if running a sprint – they want to win now no matter the cost, which they can worry about in the next business cycle. Others follow the marathon concept that slow and steady wins the race. While some teams make dramatic trades to get the players to help them win this season, they sometimes sacrifice those young players who make up their bench or farm system who will be the superstars of tomorrow.
While we’d like to think that organizations we patronize hire the very best talent available (think of your doctors or the people who built the airplane you’re about to fly in), the reality is that most organizations are likely composed of a selection of superstars along with solid performers, journeymen, and everyone else.
Industries such as consulting and accounting firms are known for hiring legions of recent MBA grads in the hope of grooming them for the future, knowing that some will become their future leaders.
2. Assess what you need.
The Philadelphia Phillies’ manager wanted an outfielder who bats right-handed to fill the void left by Jayson Werth. Just because management was willing to acquire or trade for players doesn’t mean that they would take just anyone. They assessed their needs and searched for a player with the right skills to fill the talent gap on their team. You don’t get a relief pitcher when you’re looking for a strong batter.
America’s Most Productive Companies are those who find ways to produce more with fewer employees than their peers. They also only hire when absolutely necessary and are very selective about those they bring on board. Pro sports teams have finite numbers of players on the field and on the bench at any given time. What differentiates one team from another is the quality and output of those players as individuals and as a team.
How do you assess your talent? Pro sports teams have the luxury of tracking every imaginable stat for each player, not to mention having their own talent scouts and the ability to Google mentions and opinions of the players in the local press.
3. Attrition, tenure, and contract terms.
When you hire full-time employees, how often do you know exactly how long they’ll remain a part of your organization? Some disappear quickly and are instantly forgettable while others spend the rest of their career with you. In pro sports, however, players are signed to contracts that not only specify the compensation, but also the length of the deal. Some players are repeatedly signed to consecutive contracts with the same team, making them a franchise player, while in other cases the older players are cut or traded away in search of younger talent.
In these latter cases, I always feel a pang of sorrow for those players. What if they were corporate employees and just put out to pasture after their prime? It sends a very cutthroat message: not only “What have you done for me lately?” but “What can you still do for me tomorrow?”
4. Know and manage your star players.
The Philadelphia Eagles had two starting-caliber quarterbacks but needed only one. Kevin Kolb sat on the bench and only played in backup situations behind Michael Vick. Some players are born backups and are comfortable playing a supporting role while the stars soak up the spotlight. The team only needs one starting QB and doesn’t want to pay for two, while the backup wants to start and not spend his career waiting for an opportunity that may never come.
Then there are those tricky situations where you have a diva on board, whose talents on the field are overshadowed by their antics off the field. These individuals are just that – individuals looking for their own stage on which to perform and not as interested in helping their teammates for the greater good. Think Terrell Owens and Manny Ramirez.
Who are the stars in your organization? How do you manage them? Do they work well together? Which ones are at risk of leaving? Do you have jerks and divas on your staff whom you hate to manage but whose performance you love?
5. Manage risk.
After serving prison sentences, Michael Vick is about to start his third NFL season and Plaxico Burress his first. Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers is a tremendous baseball player with a troubled past of addictions to drugs and alcohol.
Everyone likes to hear a story of redemption, but before redemption comes risk. Has the person really reformed, or do his past struggles continue to haunt him? Employee background checks and substance tests help organizations manage risk. It’s not about assigning blame or judgment (the courts have already done that), but identifying risky behavior that could affect your business.
The next time you hear about a player trade or big signing, don’t just consider it as an arm-chair quarterback; rather, imagine that occurrence in your own organization: could that happen with your corporate talent management strategy? Are you trying to win for today or plan for tomorrow? Are there lessons you could learn from pro sports teams, or is the grass greener where you work?