The trouble with talent is… nurturing it

Much like sports stars, talent needs a little bit of TLC in order to really shine in a business

The trouble with talent is… nurturing it

There aren’t many things more magical than seeing a certain spark in someone. When it all clicks, you can actually see someone’s future mapped out before your eyes.

However, even though plenty of us have the innate raw talent to become masters of our chosen fields, only a select few ever make it.

For example, millions of kids every year fall in love with sport. However, less than 1% ever make it to the world stage of competition. But what’s the difference between them and us?

An obvious place to start is to look at how countries churn out elite athlete after elite athlete in comparison to the business alternative. Football and rugby clubs have taken the recruitment and development of their players into their own hands by setting up what are formally known as academies. In these academies, talented children start young and are nurtured up through the ranks before making their professional appearances for the club’s elite team. Similarly, organisations such as UK Sport and the English Institute of Sport (EIS) have rolled out talent development programmes to locate and develop talent in other pursuits such as athletics and gymnastics.

This all sounds very fancy, but we’ve been doing this in business for years as well. Whether we pick out talent straight from school using an internship or recruit candidates with a more formal education using graduate schemes, we do have plans in place to nurture talent. However, with a significantly higher drop-out rate than that of our sporting comparison, what else could we do to ensure we are nurturing emerging talent to the best of our ability?

Challenge them

Once you’ve secured a talented individual in your business, you need to push them to the limits. All too often young people or new recruits are pandered to and given relatively easy tasks without the same pressure as their more experienced colleagues. The fact of the matter is emerging talent is just that: emerging. Unless an individual is challenged, and therefore improved, they won’t stay talented for long.

An academy player is thrown into a rigorous training schedule giving them a true indication of what their future will be like. This really separates the wheat from the chaff, leaving only the most motivated, eager and truly talented athletes standing. Within business, we need to find the comfort zone of these talented individuals and then promptly drop them ten miles due south. You’ll then get a true indication of just how talented your new recruit is.

Of course, this doesn’t have to happen too often, or even right away. However, if you don’t constantly push the limits of a talented person, they will not develop, they will not grow and they will not stay talented.

Mother them

I know, I know, it sounds like a contradiction. But come on, this is an article about nurturing emerging talent, not just scaring it senseless. Alongside pushing their limits you need to act as a confidant, a shoulder to cry on, a mentor and sometimes even a mother. When they ask for help, give it to them, and when they don’t ask for help, make sure they know it’s there.

Test, assess, re-test, reassess

One of the great things about competing at sport is that everything is quantifiable and as such, monitoring progress becomes a lot easier. You have clear markers of where you sit amongst your peers, an abundance of data upon which you can compare your abilities and a good old fashioned ‘win or lose’ mentality. As a result, budding athletes are continuously tested and assessed to benchmark their talent. Goals are then set, hard work commences, more tests occur and you’ve either achieved your goals or you haven’t (which more often than not results in the chop).

Clearly, we don’t want to transfer everything over from this sporting mentality. However, there is a lot to be gained by being a little clearer with your intentions. This can be achieved by having a conversation with your talented individuals to set them some clear goals and when the allotted time is over, seeing how they did. It is then a case of lather, rinse and repeat as required.

Make them own it

There comes a time when a young emerging talented athlete becomes, in their own right, world class. This will come long before their first Champions League win or their first time on the podium.

The same is true in business: an emerging talent will become top talent long before their first big achievement. The transformation will come when each of these individuals ‘own it’ and become the masters of their own destiny. A great way to nurture this is to make their goals and subsequent achievements public, which is an age-old trick used amongst performance psychologists.

You’ll be surprised how much of a vested interest other people in the business take in your new recruits, so much so that if your new recruits make it known where they want to be in the next six months, two years or five years, they are considerably more likely to achieve this. Not only will they be motivated to try harder as a result of the public engagement, but the teams around them will know what they’re aiming for and be able to help accordingly.

So the next time you see that spark in someone, take action and you can reap the rewards of seeing it ignite. 

Lyndsey Simpson
Lyndsey Simpson

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