A golden strategy for attracting the best talent


There were stand out performances that really spiked our attention at #RIO2016: the Rugby Sevens and Kim Brennan.

“Often the only way employees and talent can get away from how they’ve been stereotyped and broaden their capabilities is to move to a different company — which of course is expensive for the employer losing them.”

— Brian Sullivan, the chairman and CEO of executive recruiter Christian Timbers.

We’re a little bleary eyed this week! After almost two weeks of late nights cheering for the empowering and talented Simone Biles, watching Usain Bolt achieve history and laughing at the reasons synchronised divers split the Olympics is coming to a close.

But there were stand out performances that really spiked our attention at #RIO2016: Rugby Sevens and Kim Brennan. And not just because they won gold, but because they represent the opportunities that present when we look at a persons potential, and not just their experience.

Take Kim Brennan, a former track and field runner with a dream of representing Australia in the 400m as an example.  After having finished second to Jana Pitman, at the Australian Championships, injury ended her athletics dream. But a sliver lining emerged as the rowing coaches watching her ergo rehabilitation schedule suggested she might like to try getting in the boat. She is now an Olympic gold medal winning rower.

“As an athlete you always have to believe you have a lot of improvement, but the switch turned out to be fantastic. I’m much better suited to rowing. I have loved every moment in this sport.”

And it’s been a similar experience for many of the Rugby Sevens players.

Up until a few years ago, many Sevens gold medalists were passionately pursuing goals in other sports and many certainly didn’t have the Olympic Games on their vision board. Even more surprisingly, almost none of the girls were playing Rugby Union!

Ellia Green, who scored the third try of the final, was originally planning on running the 100m at the Olympics. Captain Sharni Williams used to be a hockey player, and even represented Australia in hockey at the 2010 World Cup. Chloe Dalton started her sporting career as a basketballer and played for the Sydney Flames in the WNBL. Charlotte Caslick, Evania Pelite, Alicia Quirk, Emilee Cherry and Gemma Etheridge are all former touch football players, and Shannon Parry and Emma Tonegato came from rugby league.

Several of the women also have qualifications and work outside their now rugby union careers. Captain Sharni Williams works as a qualified mechanic in Canberra, Gemma Etheridge is a qualified radiographer and one of the players used to drive trucks in the mines in Mount Isa. This team is rich with experience and a diversity of skill-sets that when knitted together, achieve great things. No one has an undergraduate degree in rugby union – but rather they have a set of complimentary skills that, collectively, are now symbolic of both diversity of thought and success.

According to Emergenetics, “when teams are put in groups where there is diversity in thinking styles, they come to the conclusion that diversity in thought is a clear booster of the way they work and their performance. In most cases, this realisation is buoyed by the actual results of the exercise—more creative, comprehensive solutions reached more quickly.”

Someone, or some people, thought outside-the-box when recruiting and choosing the Rugby Sevens team. And it has paid off, proving a point we’ve long been passionate about: seeing the potential in others and ourselves is a superpower.  And workplaces can do with a bit more of this power when considering the value of current and potential employees.

Turn on your promotion bias detector

Attracting, retaining and developing talent is a critical aspect of management and the strategies organisations use for managing human resources has a significant impact on productivity and profitability.

Studies in promotion decision making have found managers tend to rely on just a small number of cues to determine who should receive a promotion; previous employment experience, communication skills and leadership ability. And of course, someone that resembles themselves or the person who previously performed that role inevitably forms part of the recruiting subconscious bias. This is limiting on all fronts: not only does it limit the size of the talent pool capable of performing the role, but it limits an organisations ability to maximise the potential of its existing employees.

Of course, sometimes it takes someone else to help you see your potential.

Ask the right questions; listen to their professional vision

A lady I am currently coaching through her transition from parental leave is a highly experienced lawyer. But she’s bored with her current role. In our coaching sessions, she’s revealed both her values, and her passions, which include painting and design – and yes, she does still love policy, process and problem solving.

Having worked up a professional vision that has enabled her to see her own potential, we’re now working on a stakeholder engagement plan that will help others in her business to see her potential in another field – digital design. She’d no doubt be a great asset to that different team and a move would allow the organisation to retain her talent, whilst also seeing her realise a whole new potential…I’ll keep you posted!

Executives often stress the importance of developing talent but many quickly form rigid views of employees and resist changing those views even as their staff mature. This is one of the main causes of employee discontent. Employees who are pigeonholed by their boss end up contributing a fraction of their potential.

Whilst pigeonholing can be effective for businesses in the short term (creating a workforce with fine tuned abilities who can undertake assignments quickly and effectively) the long-term impacts can lead to a disgruntled and much less productive workforce.

It’s a winning formula.

It’s just another reason the business case for diversity (in this case of thought) makes sense (Alessandro Fagone):

  1. It wards off ‘groupthink’ and prevents subject matter expert arrogance;
  2. It increases the rate at which new insights are uncovered; and
  3. It helps organizations quickly determine the right employees to tackle time-sensitive projects

So when building your next team, go for GOLD, think outside the box, and put a different lens on exploring the potential of candidates with the right skills – beyond just the technical training – to form your winning side.