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What talent management lessons can businesses learn from the world of football?

By Chano Fernandez, executive vice president, global field operations, Workday

Football clubs often pay eye-watering sums for top players and the values involved often seem worlds away from a non-football business. But just like footballers, every employee has a market value and there’s always competition between businesses to sign new talent.

Recruiting Ian, your new finance director, might not make the headlines and it’s unlikely to cost you £100,000 a week (sorry, Ian.) Finding the equivalent of a Messi or Ronaldo for your sales team wouldn’t come with a £100m fee. Clubs in the EPL spent over £155m on transfer deadline day alone last year, with total summer spending reaching a record £1.165bn. The sums involved might seem outrageous, but it’s just simple economics. After all, there’s almost unlimited demand for Cristiano Ronaldo, but supply is absolutely finite.

Similarly, your business is competing with the rest of the market for a relatively small pool of the most valued “players.” So how do you make sure they sign for you, and not the competition? With the EPL summer transfer window due to slam shut at the end of August, here are three areas where businesses can learn from Premier League clubs:

Competing on culture

The 20 clubs that make up the Premier League shared the proceeds of a record £5.1bn television rights deal in the 2016/17 season. But not all clubs get an equal slice of the pie: Bigger brands, such as Chelsea and Manchester United, draw bigger audiences and as such take more of the TV revenues. Bigger budgets increase your ability to recruit the best talent, so for Brighton & Hove Albion or Huddersfield Town, what do these clubs compete on? Often it comes down to providing an overall experience for players.

This is where culture becomes increasingly important. According to the Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends 2016 report, 84% of UK HR and business leaders believe that “culture is a potential competitive advantage.” But only 28% of those questioned believed they understood their culture well. Just 19% believed they had the “right culture.”

Free your employees to play their best position

Whether you are the Manchester City or the Bournemouth of the business world, recruitment and retention are two of the most significant challenges facing HR leaders. While financial compensation may motivate some employees in the short-term, even the highest-earning players move clubs to guarantee regular first team action, or to stand a better chance of winning trophies. Research from Willis Towers Watson found that over 70% of “high-retention-risk” employees say they need to leave their organisation to make career progress.

Bigger football clubs tackle this issue by loaning players to other clubs to ensure they are getting regular pitch time. The practice is commonplace: 168 Premier League players were on loan at other clubs at the start of last season.

Businesses don’t often loan an employee to another organisation, but companies are providing more opportunities for employees to rotate through multiple departments because they recognise that different roles broaden employee horizons, experiences and skillsets. Research from Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and Odgers Berndtson stated that, “Companies need CFOs who have taken a ‘corkscrew’ approach to their careers rather than follow a straight line.”

The end of “gut feel”?

Big data and analytics are fast becoming commonplace in all elite sport – not just football – with numerous examples of clubs turning to data to improve performance and results. For example, Middlesbrough FC uses software to drive an intelligence-based approach that builds a complete picture of the player and their attributes to inform transfer activity.

Middlesbrough’s head of recruitment, Gary Gill, said, “Part of our job is to try to be on top of all that changing information, and it is not easy because we are covering a lot of complex markets in a business where clubs like to play things close to their chests… And the more information we have, the better equipped we are to recruit the best possible players.”

HR teams are undergoing the same journey, with HR leaders using data to support decisions. Gut feeling can’t be validated or justified to others, and can lead to errors. The status quo and old-fashioned approaches are being challenged by hard data, with the resulting insights offering new ways of looking at recruitment and retention.

Like football, business is a team sport. As Leicester City memorably proved in 2016-17, assembling the right personnel, encouraging the highest levels of performance and engagement can lead to a competitive advantage which can help overhaul even the most established and wealthy foes.

At a time where a combination of technological and cultural factors have created a climate of business disruption, and as we gear up for a new Premier League season, both established organisations and nimble start-ups alike can learn something about finding and retaining talent from the world of football.

Picture courtesy of Pixabay

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