Talent Management Lessons From the England Football Team

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For those who are familiar with Greek mythology, there are strong parallels between the experience of King Sisyphus and the fortunes of the England football team since the turn of the century. Just as Sisyphus was forced to continually push a heavy boulder up the same steep hill as a sadistic punishment, for example, England often battles its way to major tournament finals, only to fail miserably before being forced to start the process of rebuilding all over again.

See Also: How to become a Football Star

Such repetitive and relentless failure has sounded the death knell for four managers during this time, which on the face of it seems harsh, given the deeper issues that undermine English football. If you consider the financial and human resources that have been available to the England team over the course of the last 15 years, however, it is hard to dispute the fact that they should have achieved far more than the occasional, fleeting quarter-final appearance.

The Failure of Talent Management: What Businesses can learn from the England Football Team?

Ultimately, an epic failure of talent management has damaged the English football brand and prevented the side from reaching its enormous potential since the turn of the century. From the overstated but still prodigiously talented ‘Golden Generation’ of the noughties to the current crop of talented youngsters, England have allowed a number of gifted players to come and then go without ever threatening to bother those tasked with engraving major international trophies.

While such a failure of talent management may be difficult to bear, it at least offers some invaluable lessons to business-owners (regardless of whether they operate in the sports and leisure sector or not). Let’s take a look at some of the most prominent:

1. Great Individuals do not Always Create a Superior Team

Artist Janet Echelman has earned rave reviews for her aerial net sculptures, which are visually stunning and based on the fundamental values of intersections and interdependencies. These sculptures exist solely because of a series of interconnected and knotted threads, which although they remain entirely nondescript by themselves, they can be combined to create something truly impactful.

Far from representing a considerable digression, this embodies the underlying ethos of teamwork, which is something that successful businesses thrive on and have done throughout the ages. Incredibly, teamwork is also something that the majority of England managers have eschewed over the course of the last 15 years, as they instead focus on creating a side out of the 11 most talented individuals in the country. While this sounds viable to some degree, it often involves pandering to egos and forcing smooth and rounded pegs into the most rigid of square holes.

Take the case of the precociously talented midfielders Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, for example, who often played in tandem together during the noughties, despite dovetailing with the cohesion of two drunkards attempting to waltz their way home in the early hours of the morning. The reason for this is that they were extremely similar in their nature and playing style, which in turn created a huge imbalance in the side, forcing both to compromise on the natural game.

As for the lesson, this should be simple. Rather than building a team based on individual talent alone, look to create a structure and system that enables people to work together and to their maximum levels. Once specific roles are identified within this, you can recruit the appropriate talent to fill these while ensuring that your team that is productive, cohesive and less inclined to resent one another.

2. Reputation Means Nothing Without Performance

On a similar note, there have been innumerable England managers who have selected players apparently based on their reputation alone. This even happens with the current squad, where individuals such as the promising, but perennially injured, Arsenal midfielder, Jack Wilshere, are selected for major tournaments despite barely being able to string together two consecutive matches for their clubs.

We are not denying Wilshere’s pedigree, or the fact that he has earned his reputation to some degree before the unyielding scrutiny of the British public. The point is that managers can become all too easily consumed with this media opinion-driven world, especially if a particular player suits their playing style and underlying philosophy. Put simply, players such as Wilshere and others before him, have been able to be favoured due to their style and appearance rather than substance.

This is an even bigger issue for business-owners, who rarely get to see candidates perform in a real-time environment before they make a decision. Add this to the fact that reputations are also easy to fabricate in the increasingly remote and user-controlled realm of social media and you have a scenario where managers can build a so-called dream team with nightmare elements. Despite this, ExecuNet reports that up to 90% of executive recruiters conduct extensive online research on potential candidates without questioning the data that they find.

So, what should entrepreneurs learn from this? Chiefly, it is crucial that they carefully define the company culture and most importantly each specific job role that becomes available. This will make it easier to create interview-specific tests and relevant questions, which challenge each candidate to prove the skills that make them suited to the position. The more detail that you include, the better, so be sure to research the requirements of each job in detail and understand how they will fit within the infrastructure.

3. Good Talent Management Relies on a Strong Hierarchy

Does anyone remember Steve McLaren’s ill-fated reign as England manager? Unless it is your tendency to repress bad memories, you probably recall him stalking the Wembley touchline armed with just an umbrella and an unsurprisingly blank notepad, as England’s hopes of qualification for the 2008 European Championships sank without trace. He also perpetuated a host of talent management fails during his brief tenure, including the two we have already mentioned here.

One of his biggest mistakes was becoming overly familiar with his players. While his successor Fabio Capello was criticised for being too removed from his players, McClaren drew ire for his cringeworthy habit of referring to senior players by nicknames and overly-friendly monikers. For John Terry read ‘JT’, for example, while Liverpool Captain Steven Gerrard was embarrassingly referred to ‘Stevie G’ on multiple occasions. This not only made fans and pundits around the world shudder, but it also completely undermined the hierarchy and chain of command within the England team.

This can be extremely damaging from a talent management perspective for two key reasons. Firstly, it creates confusion within your carefully developed team structure, damaging any existing hierarchy and making it difficult for new members to fully understand the chain of command. Additionally, it can also create the impression of favouritism, as certain individuals are known by affectionate monikers while others are referred to only by their name. Either way, such issues can impact negatively on productivity and demand, while also making it difficult for team members to respect their leaders commands.

These problems can easily be avoided, simply by acting in a way that encourages individual team members to respect the business infrastructure and chain of command. This involves adopting a uniform approach to addressing staff, while refraining from the use of nicknames within the workplace. With ethos, this should also create the impression of a fair and just workplace, where everyone has an equal opportunity to develop their skills and progress. This represents excellent news for your business, while it will also help you to avoid emulating a man known not so affectionately as ‘the wally with the brolly’.

See Also: How to Answer ‘Are you a Team Player?’

While the England football team and its army of recent managers cannot teach us much about success, they have at least delivered multiple lessons in talent mismanagement. By heeding these lessons and learning what not to do when building and managing a team in the workplace, you can hopefully achieve something that so few England incumbents have managed in their time!

Are you a football (or soccer) fan? Do you agree with the above points? Let us know in the comments section below.