I took great interest in an article in the FT Weekend a few months back, titled: Game of talents: management lessons from top football coaches. (The FT claims you can now read an article a day even if you don’t have a subscription, so here’s hoping.) I’ve never watched a whole football game in my life, but the management tips in this were excellent for high performing organisations, and I think startups benefit a lot from learnings in other fields.
Learning that the idea behind “talent management” originated from a consulting firm, McKinsey, in 1997, when they identified a “war for talent” was rather fascinating.
Its true that big talent usually comes with a big ego. Smart mangers accept that. Its clear that big talents also know that the employer needs them, hence there’s scope to break the rule of behaviour. Does ego damage an organisation or help drive good talent to become stars (I’m going to agree with the latter)? If you want obedient soldiers (yes-men?), you forsake good talent.
Arsenal’s manager Arsène Wenger says: “If you want an easy week [in training with the players], then expect a hard weekend [in the game]. If you want an easy weekend, then prepare for a hard week.”
We always hear that no person is bigger than the organisation; however organisations should be large enough to accomodate great talent. But at the same time unchecked egos are probably not the best — high performers are better when they “get over themselves” (so the conventional wisdom of they have a family, a pet, etc. something we looked for hiring when at MySQL since most of us worked from home).
“Football is the most individual team sport” – isn’t that true in most organisations where it really is every man for himself? Manage, but don’t dominate talent is probably also key (I’ve experienced micro-management and I can assure you its a sure-fire way to frustrate talent and possibly to leave; not all good talent graduate to being good managers). Talent need to trust each other, i.e. the team they’re working with, a lot more than they like each other — again, anecdotally, when we started Team MariaDB, we were a team of people that trusted each other from the MySQL days, banding together to become one cohesive unit. Arguably, we still are!
Talent joins an organisation to improve while there. So focus on making sure they are always improving. Send them to conferences to learn more. Give them new tasks.
- “Good talent motivate itself.”
- “Our job is not to demotivate them by not providing the challenges and goals that their talents need” – Carlo Ancelotti
- A big talent is usually self-motivated. He wants to succeed for himself and his career. However, if he senses that the management is second rate, he may decide to go and succeed in another organisation.
I found it interesting that 99% of recruitment is about whom you don’t hire; again its true that if you introduce a weak team member, the best talent may leave. Worse, a weak manager! Overall, one should also accept that talent may eventually leave (I think we have a pretty good record @ Team MariaDB for non-leavers). Its amazing that an average graduate changes jobs 11 times, while the average footballer changes jobs 3.8 times. Managers should seek productivity, not loyalty (though I think loyalty to the cause plays a role; this is where football doesn’t quite transcend say to opensource organisations with competition in the field).
Overall, I think it was a great article, I learned a lot from it, and I think you will too. Remember to read it — Game of talents: management lessons from top football coaches.