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You can’t always win on pure talent

One of the things in my personal life that I am very passionate about is the coaching of my daughter’s basketball team. I truly enjoy working with her and the rest of the team as they enhance their fundamental basketball skills and come together as a team. One of the things that we, as coaches, did very well at the start of the season was set the expectations as it pertained to the type of team culture we wanted to have. We were very clear with the girls (and their parents) that we expected them to show up for practices and games on time, be prepared to give 100% at practice/games, listen to what the coaches were trying to teach them and to treat each other and their opponents with respect.  We indicated to them back in October that if they bought into these expectations we would establish a supportive culture of performance that would lead to success (not quite in those “HR” words but you get my drift!)

People concept imageAs the season commenced, we lost more games than we won; however, the girls bought into what we were teaching, they gave 100%, they treated each other with respect and supported their teammates for the betterment of the team.  At the last game of the regular season, we ended up playing the top team in our division (who hadn’t lost a game all year) and we defeated them. Two weeks after that, we played that same team in the league final and beat them again. So what are the lessons learned here as it pertains to HR and business?

Let me be clear, on talent alone, the other team was/is superior to our girls. Generally speaking, their girls are more athletic and are better overall ball handlers and shooters. So on talent alone, they are superior. So what is/was the difference? It was the sum of the parts playing as a team. Our girls came together as a team and played a better team game. They bought into the culture, the expectations and were all very coachable. They bought into the team concept and how equal ball distribution translated into more points for everyone. They understood that it wasn’t about individual success but team success and at the end of the day, they enjoyed winning more than being the person on a losing team with more points.

So what does this all have to do with HR and business? Well, based on my experience, I think the same can be said about our organizations. Often in the war for talent (I still despise that expression) companies (i.e. Talent Acquisition folks) get so caught up in hiring the best talent that they can assemble (skill and experience-wise) that they lose sight of the fact that they should be building teams not collecting talent. With organizations, much like a basketball team, if you have too much “top talent”, there aren’t enough balls to go around to make everyone happy. If you simply have a collection of talented individuals working for you, but there are no expectations set for them, no culture established and no reason to come together as a team, then you will have talented people working in the best interests of themselves and not your company.

Much like the previously mentioned team we defeated, a collection of talented individuals is not going to be a competitive advantage if you can’t harness the power of the group to focus on the team outcomes. One of my favourite bloggers, Tim Sackett, wrote a post last year on his blog – “It’s Not a Talent Contest” that I think really hammers things home. Tim writes, “It’s not a ‘talent’ contest. It’s a ‘winning’ contest!” He further brings home his point by indicating that:

“…it doesn’t matter how talented the other team is, it all comes down to winning the game. Great, you have the best talent, but if you’re losing the game your high level of talent means nothing! …….in reality, the best talent might not help your organization ‘win’….business isn’t a talent game. It’s a winning and losing game…you don’t always need the most talented individuals to win. What you need is people who are willing to give that little bit of extra effort, over those who won’t. This discretionary effort gets you the win, over talented individuals who aren’t willing to give such effort. You need individuals that put the goal, the vision, first. They believe in what you are doing as an organization, and do what it takes to make those goals reality. You need individuals who want to see those around them succeed and are willing to sacrifice themselves, from time to time, to see their peers and coworkers succeed. This sacrifice has nothing to do with talent…..it’s about hiring the talent that will make our organizations successful.”

My apologies to Tim if he feels I edited this incorrectly (I can only hope that he is reading my blog!); however, I feel he is 100% bang on with this assessment. Your team has to have people that put the organization’s/teams goals first. We need to focus on hiring and retaining the right mix of talent that will make our organizations successful. As HR Pros, let’s agree that we should be advising and acting based on that principle. Let’s stop focusing on collecting talent as if we were trying to assemble a complete set of baseball cards. A collection of (top) talent is nothing if collectively they can’t make your organization better/successful. Much like the complete collection of baseball cards, once you assemble them, they typically stay in a box on a shelf collecting dust – they are of no use to you. We need to bring together that optimal mix of individuals that buys into your team concept – they are the ones that will help you to win…whether in business, or basketball. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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