What Eddie teaches us about talent

It’s been amusing to watch the mixed reaction to the recent appointment of Eddie Jones as English rugby’s new head coach.  For those who are unfamiliar with the intricacies of rugby union please bear with this as it provides an interesting insight into the way we source for talent.

Sporting insights in talent sourcing

Eddie Jones is an Australian so the fact he has now been given the keys to the front door of English rugby has prompted a mixed reaction with significant rumblings from jingoistic corners claiming dismay at an “outsider” being given the chance to lead the team.  It’s the first time a “foreign coach” has been appointed.  Now Eddie Jones is a heavily experienced coach and has the potential to do great things with England (especially in light of Japan’s heroics in the recent World Cup compared to England’s pitiful exit).  But I suspect a number of people will continue to question why the post has been made externally, especially an Aussie.

I think this highlights the real challenge with how you introduce new talent to organisations.   When faced with the challenge of growing new capabilities there can be a tendency to source from existing networks with tried and tested techniques.  However, taking the bold and radical choices and going to a different industry or market can make a real difference.

Jones at least is a rugby professional, albeit from a different country, but there are countless examples in sport of people crossing codes who bring about major changes in performance and create a winning formula.    Team Sky’s meteoric rise in pro cycling has at the heart of it a Performance Director who plied their trade as a swimming coach.  But he (Tim Kerrison) has revolutionised the training for the riders, bring in new innovative techniques.   The opportunity of bring in fresh talent with alternative thinking can be game changing.

Seeking help from the outside

In this context I think you have to question how much the HR industry is willing to be bold and radical in their talent sourcing strategies.  As an industry do we really challenge ourselves and bring in external thinking (outside of the confides of HR practice) and people into our teams to overcome the new challenges we face?  I suggest it’s questionable or at best patchy.  I was recently chairing a round table on analytics recently and I found it worrying that when challenged with the question of how will attendees grow the new analytic capabilities in their teams several eye brows were raised when a suggestion came to source these from other industries like marketing.    It felt that there was a dominant mood of ‘we know what’s best for or business.’   In the same way that some noses have been turned up at an Aussie running English rugby.

Given the challenges we face as an industry like  becoming more tech savvie, analytic and lead business change it is a worry we are not open to new ideas and perspectives.   To address these challenges we need to open our minds and listen to our specialists that reside in our business today (you know those in marketing, data science, digital developers etc) equally we need to make bold decisions and source people from other walks of life.   That way you learn and embrace different alternatives and grow.  Eddie Jones may not work out for England but you can’t fault the RFU for being radical (at last).    HR practitioners need to take note.

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