Guide to Executive Talent Mapping: Sports Quote Edition

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Talent mapping is a critical process for any organisation that plans to thrive not just today, but tomorrow, and the day after that. It involves evaluating your current workforce as well as your long term staffing needs and formulating a plan to meet those needs through retention, recruitment, and development. Sports teams do this all the time, so perhaps it’s appropriate to use some quotes made (or allegedly made) by athletes to illustrate some keys to talent mapping success. 

“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been,”-often attributed to Wayne Gretzky1

The Great One didn’t shatter every record in his sport by standing around passively. Success in business takes a similar level of proactivity. Before you can understand what kind of talent your company will require 1, 5, or 10 years from today, you’ll need to assess where it is your company and industry are going. What new technologies, processes, goals and paradigms will be at the heart of your business model in the future? Lacking a crystal ball, the long-term details of this are unknowable, but by assessing and constantly re-assessing your future direction, you’ll be able to make more informed staffing decisions. 

“Larry Bird is not walking through that door,” Celtics coach Rick Pitino. 2

The famous quote came as Pitino addressed Celtics fans, spoiled by years of glory, after a tough loss. He was essentially giving them an honest assessment of their current level of talent, which is exactly what good management must do in order to determine opportunity and need. Many of the pieces your company will need to excel tomorrow may be in-house today. Some are likely not. 

“We’re drafting for upside,” overheard at virtually every pro sports draft. 

This phrase, along with its close cousin “the kid’s got a high ceiling” is often uttered by pro coaches and general managers who have bypassed the athlete who is best today in favour of the one they feel has the potential to be the best tomorrow. Good companies understand when it’s time to do likewise. 

What are your current employees capable of? Are there those who lack the (potentially trainable) hard skills to advance to a larger role, but who display the more difficult to develop soft skills? Talent mapping involves constantly thinking about the future; the ability to recognize potential (or lack thereof) is a key component. 

“Without goals, training has no direction,” Natalie Coughlin3

“Practice like you’ve never won, play like you’ve never lost,” Michael Jordan (unverified) 

“What are we talking about, practice?” Allen Iverson4

With all due respect to the talented Mr. Iverson, Jordan and Coughlin are right, development is key to success. Your training and development program should be working toward the skills and aptitudes that your company will need in order to execute your stated future plans. Not only will a robust program help your staff grow into more valuable employees, it will serve as a valuable factor in recruitment and retention efforts. 

“He’s the Greek God of walks,” -Jonah Hill’s character in ‘Moneyball’5

Sabermetrics, the focus of this movie, is the practice of using baseball calculus to discover non-traditional ways to win games. Everyone loves a slugger, but it’s also important to overcome bias and apply reason to staffing decisions. The combination of data and free thinking can open doors. Go beyond conventional wisdom and load your team with secret weapons. 

“You’d look good in pinstripes,” Yankees star Aaron Judge to soon-to-be free agent Manny Machado.6

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the Yankees have a reputation for winning big games (and writing big cheques!) They do so by developing talent (Judge, Derek Jeter, Micky Mantle), and by raiding other team’s superstars (Alex Rodriguez, Babe Ruth). Like all other teams, they’re constantly assessing talent on a league-wide basis. Unlike some other teams, they’re prepared to do what it takes to go out there and get them. Yes, money is a factor, but so too is the mythical ‘je ne sais quoi’ that comes from being a member of the marquee franchise.  

Companies that know what they need can scout industry talent and be ready to act when necessary. While salary will of course be a major factor, so too will brand reputation and an attractive suite of benefits. 

Talent mapping is not an action, but an ongoing process. Informing this process with data, forethought, and careful consideration will provide your company with the greatest chance of success on an ongoing basis. 

Cited Sources
1 “Skate to Where the Puck Is Going – Position for the Future to Achieve a Competitive Edge.” Digital Realty. Accessed March 14, 2022.
2 Phillips, Carron J. “Rick Pitino’s ‘Larry Bird Is Not Walking through That Door’ Speech Is Now Old Enough to Drink.” Deadspin. Deadspin, March 1, 2021.
3 “Natalie Coughlin Quote.” A. Accessed March 14, 2022.
4 gordievsky. “Iverson Practice!” YouTube. YouTube, April 15, 2006.
5“Moneyball – Script Delivery.” Accessed March 14, 2022.
6 Baer, Bill. “Aaron Judge Told Manny Machado He Would Look Good in Yankee Pinstripes – MLB: NBC Sports.” MLB, March 15, 2018.