Monday Morning Quarterbacking: Talent Management


Houston football fans had something to rejoice about this year.  For the first time in franchise history, the Houston Texans made the playoffs. In a league dominated by high-profile celebrity quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees, the most remarkable aspect of the Texans’ playoff run is that they were led by a first year quarterback, T.J. Yates. Five months ago, before the start of the season, few people in Houston, let alone the rest of the nation, were even aware Yates existed. Thankfully for Houston fans, the coaching and management staff made adequate preparations in case something happened to their starters.  When the Texan’s starting quarterback and his backup suffered injuries in the middle of the season, Yates, a 24 year old, third-string rookie had to step in to fill the most important position on the team.

In Yates’ case, he was part of a long-term strategy by the Texans to develop their next generation of players.  Similarly for companies, it’s a smart business strategy to pay attention to those who may not yet be stars and groom them towards succession, whether it happens through a smooth transition or unexpected chaos. Here are five things companies can learn about talent management from the experts in professional sports:

1) Think early and ahead. Regardless of a company’s current performance, it’s important to have the mindset that anything can happen at any time. Though executives may not get sidelined for injuries, a host of other unexpected problems can require an organization to slide in new talent.  Organizations that don’t plan ahead can spend months - even years - in limbo trying to reorganize during replacement periods. As the Texans have shown, it’s important to not only have a backup, but another backup as well.  Granted, this might be a tall order in the corporate world.

2) Not all developmental talent will fulfill expectations.  Each year hundreds of young players come into the NFL through draft and free agent signings.  Out of those hundreds of players, only a handful will become star players in the long run.  When investing resources in talent management, the rate of return may not be seem high, but the possibility of finding just one star is often worth the risk.

3) Consider the possible choices for talent.   After both quarterbacks were out for the season, the other option for the team was to bring in a seasoned veteran.  Although the Texan’s choice to stick with the younger Yates worked out in the end, it’s not uncommon for teams in this situation go with the safer option – someone with proven experience.  When making an external hire, organizations, too, have to decide whether someone younger with raw talent is more appropriate than a more seasoned outsider who, while having predictable talent, might be more set in his or her ways or might not mesh well with existing culture.

4) A healthy environment is important for growth. Although the Texans made the playoffs with a rookie quarterback, it’s safe to say that they wouldn’t have without an outstanding defense, offensive line, and running game which helped relieve pressure on Yates, thus making his transition easier.  Similarly for companies, it’s critical to have the right pieces surrounding an executive during his/her development period such as positive support, training programs, and competitive incentive compensation.

5) The stars of the future maybe not be stars of the present.  New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady, three-time Super Bowl champion and one of the most recognizable faces in the NFL, was anything but a star coming out of college.  He was one of the last players drafted out of his college class and was expected to be nothing more than a backup in the league.  Luckily for the Patriots, they gave him a chance to perform and it obviously paid dividends.  Companies should recognize that stars are rarely born and raw talent needs to be developed.  Opportunities should sometimes be given to those not originally slated to make an impact. 

Although it would have been ideal to end this blog with a Texans victory, it was not to be. But perhaps that is even a better point: Winners do not win every battle.  Even though the Texans fell short this past weekend of accomplishing their goal of winning the Super Bowl, they got much farther than anyone anticipated thanks to good planning and preparation.  Every leader encounters defeat--but what distinguishes a true leader is how he or she handles setbacks.  Real leaders recognize the positives from every loss and don't allow one defeat to undermine their drive and goals for the future.   As for whether this applies to the be continued, fall 2012.



1 Comment

January 17, 2012 AT 10:52 AM CST

George Barrister wrote:

Always a good idea to have a back-up plan.

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