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Whether a die-hard football fan or not, it’s impossible to ignore the excitement of the World Cup. In particular, I find myself intrigued by the huge diversity of the nations involved from all over the world and the fact that football seems to be prevalent almost everywhere on earth. It’s also impossible to avoid seeing the faces of the world’s most well-known star players splashed across the media. With coverage highlighting the glory of great footballing triumphs and critiquing both teams and players, this is truly talent in the spotlight.

All this focus on the star footballers got me thinking about the huge pyramid of players who never quite make it as far as their national squad, and about the process of talent selection. Not just the ultimate selection for the World Cup team, but the routine selection decisions made by football team managers week by week, across all teams and all leagues throughout the world. That’s a serious number of tough conversations going on about talent and selection, day in and day out.

Put into context, the job of a manager within an organisation appears to be comparatively easy. And yet for many, talent selection is one of the aspects of their role they find the most challenging. When I talk to business leaders about their talent management processes, the challenge that seems to exercise them most often is: having decided whom I want to select for the team, how should I communicate this? And perhaps the toughest question: what should I tell the individual who hasn’t been selected?

Perhaps we are acclimatised to skirt around these issues and to avoid a straight-talking, clear message around selection. Imagine if a football manager didn’t communicate who had been selected for the next match and who would be on the bench! Not only would this cause uncertainty amongst potential players; it may also adversely affect stakeholder confidence in the manager and the team over time.

We all know that it’s a sensitive subject and it’s not surprising that many companies choose to keep their talent selection process (or even all mention of their talent pool) confidential. Yet it is vital for a star player to know that they have been chosen for the squad, and why; just as an aspiring player who has not been selected needs to understand how they can develop their skills in order to improve their chances of future selection.

In my experience, it often seems to boil down to a lack of clarity in communication. And the consequences of falling down in this key aspect of the talent process can be dramatic, to the point that you risk losing your star players to the opposition to the tune of, ‘I didn’t know I was valued. Why didn’t anyone tell me?’ or, ‘If they had helped me to improve my influencing and negotiation skills I might still be there.’

My advice? Review your selection strategy. With a robust selection process in place and a clear communication policy to back it up, you will increase certainty and confidence both inside and outside the team. And remember, sometimes a player moves on, but explaining talent selection effectively may just set an individual’s mind to working harder, ramping up their personal development so that they will be in the team for the next match. And who knows, you may just uncover hidden talent along the way.

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