Talent – The GOLD standard

Was it really four years ago us Brits were loving Ab-Fab Ennis, Wiggo Wiggins, howling for joy like David “Wolfman” Weir and the UK was doing the ‘Mo Farah Mobot’?

As we look to Rio this summer and hope we can again excel we now have a much clearer idea of what it took those guys to win gold. At London 2012 Great Britain was placed an incredible 3rd with 65 medals; 29 Golds, 17 Silvers and 19 Bronzes, the same position as the GB Paralympians with a totally amazing haul of 120 medals; 34 Golds, 43 Silvers and 34 Bronzes.

Was it any wonder that many of the sports that came away with medals had the best funding and a high degrees of support from specialist coaches, nutritionists and psychologists?

And let’s not forget the talented few – many from minority sports with little funding – that made huge personal sacrifices, opened their minds to new ideas on preparation and showed unwavering focus on their goals, stood on the podium at the end of the day?

It doesn’t matter if it’s a sprint or a marathon, the groundwork – the planning, preparation, training and execution – has to be done to give you the best chances of success.

I’ve seen many recruitment strategies over the years. The really successful ones have been the well-funded and high profile ones, or have been led and managed by people who have given it total focus and attention, and a higher level of determination to make it succeed then most. This made me think: is recruiting people like an elite sport or sporting event?

Now I know there will be many sceptics reading this thinking that recruitment and sport are nothing alike. Just as there were many of you four years ago who thought the Olympics was all going to go wrong – that London 2012 would be rubbish, the transport system would fail, businesses would go bankrupt and the athletes would choke on the big occasion. In short it was going to be a disaster and a total waste of money.

Some people approach their recruitment the same way, thinking only of how painful the process will be, dreading the fact that they have to deal with HR or – heaven forbid – recruiters. Or focusing always on the cost, or the price, rather than the aim or the value – which is to hire the best person they can find.

Well 2012 didn’t turn out to be a disaster did it? We Brits joined in. It got better. We believed. It changed our views. We were proud, and even when things didn’t go to plan we dusted ourselves off and cheered on the next Brit aiming for golden glory.

So what can we learn from those heady days of London 2012? Or if you look at it from a different angle, what do elite sports and recruiting for your company have in common and can you change your view on how you approach your recruitment to make it better?

Future vision
To succeed now and in the future you need a vision. You also need to know what you have to deliver to execute that vision. London 2012 worked because it all came together: the weather, the games makers, the BBC coverage and the torch relay – not to mention the backdrop of one of the most iconic cities on the planet and, of course, the world’s elite athletes. The total package.

So why does recruiting at many companies seem to be made up of numerous one-off transactions when it should be part of a much larger collective vision and corporate strategy?

Now you can’t control the weather, just like you can’t control market forces and what effect they have on your company. But the weather doesn’t make the Olympics – the greatest show on earth is made by the athletes who perform at the top of their sport and the people that support them.

So is treating your recruitment like an elite sport so crazy? Here are some parallels to think about.

It’s expensive. But you know that by getting it right it’s an investment.

It costs money, yes, but the returns outweigh the cost. Was the price of the wind tunnel the GB cycling team used in honing their preparation for 2012 worth it? Ask Victoria Pendleton, Jason Kenny, Sarah Storey and Laura Trott.

It takes time to get it right. The best athletes don’t do what they do full-time for the money. They do it to be the best. Will Kath Grainger or Beth Tweddle regret giving it their very best one more time and changing the way they did things to get another chance in London?

It involves others – a team. Did Ben Ainslie, Peter Wilson and Samantha Murray do it all by themselves? No, they had coaches and support teams. You don’t win gold on your own. The whole of Team GB won for every medal won.

It’s really competitive. Did you believe Mr Bolt didn’t think he could be beaten? “The war for talent” has never relented. Companies might make hundreds of redundancies, but they’ll always be in the market for top talent, because they know that person might make the difference, and they certainly don’t want them on the other team. Can you imagine the tug of war that would have taken place if Usain had been born in the UK to Jamaican parents!

It’s about getting advice and support from experts. Every GB medal winner thanked their coaches, medics, therapist and support team. Jessica Ennis is the best heptathlete in the world. She didn’t use one coach to help her to Olympic victory. She used four.

Podium finish
So how do you get your recruitment from simply competing to achieving a podium finish? I’d suggest you start with the end in mind. If you want the best results, get the best team both internally and externally.

Many people laughed at Clive Woodward when he spoke about running a sport like a business, using new technology and proper funding to get the best external advice, and then he brought a total change of attitude in every detail of how the game was approached which resulted in England’s rugby team becoming World Champions

He was subsequently knighted and as Sir Clive, was the first person Lord Coe approached to become the Elite Performance Director for London 2012.

Next I would say change the way you at look at your recruitment challenges, and what small changes you can make. Truth might not be as fun as fiction. Once asked why we were faster than the French Team GB joked we had rounder wheels; we didn’t, we had Matt Parker. His role was to look at what marginal gains could be made. Small things – spraying tyres with alcohol to make them stickier, not rounder, and not letting the team share coach journeys with other competitors in case they picked up a cold. Net result: quicker wheels and peak condition athletes.

What are your marginal gains? Can you learn from top athletes in your recruitment plans?

Perhaps I’ve over-egged it saying recruitment and Team GB have lots in common, but one thing I’m very confident on – there’s a big difference between being an amateur and being an Olympian, even in recruitment terms.

Written by Stewart Taylor.

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