33 minutes.

33 minutes into a 90 minute Soccer match was enough time for Talent Managers from a big name European club to offer ‘break through’ Socceroo’s star Trent Sainsbury a new gig. Before the end of the first half, another four offers to join European clubs had been made.

As my colleague regaled this story on Monday morning, I admit it was met by a raised eyebrow from me. Sainsbury’s performance in Australia’s two World Cup games had clearly been outrageously impressive. But the idea that an offer like this could be made after only viewing 1/3rdof his performance (in his opening match of the World Cup no less), made me slightly cynical.

“This is the corporate equivalent of promoting someone who has had a good first sales meeting, without knowing if they can close the deal”

I argued. And as it often does when chatting with fellow HR friends (read: people geeks), the discussion turned to the parallels between Talent Management in sport and business.

We hypothesised that perhaps the Trent ‘5 offer’ experience was the result of the ‘Recency’ and ‘Halo’ biases working at their best (or is it worst?).

Being the optimists we inherently we are, the conversation quickly turned to another hypothesis  – was this situation an example of what a good stretch assignment can really do?

Trent Sainsbury’s Story

A Google stalk of Trent Sainsbury ensued. I learnt more about his story. He is certainly not a breakthrough star. He is lifer of the game. Someone that has done the ground work. Made the sacrifices. Experienced the devastating setbacks (in a rather random event involving a sprinkler!). Taken the ‘Plan B’ option to play in the Chinese Super league. Someone who has always been a great, but for a myriad of reasons, wasn’t playing at the highest level.

This is when it clicks and the cartoon light bulb appears above my head.

The Trent Sainsbury story is what great business Talent programs can do if focussed correctly.

The Talent Programs

As a career HR’er, I think it is a fair assessment that I have spent one billion hours (give or take of course) talking about Talent. But it’s generally not the good stuff. It’s the “Is this person a box 5 or a box 5.5 person?” Or the equally enthralling “does this person have high potential or high potential plus?”. These never-ending discussions mostly result in text book populated Talent Grids, where the Shining Stars continue to get great support and opportunity, and the Trent Sainsbury’s disappear into the background, rarely to have their potential revealed.

Talent Programs Done Right 

Great Talent programs however uncover the Trent’s early, and add them to their group of highly valued and resourced Shining Stars, before they are lost to a rival who invites them to join their starting line-up.

Talent management (done right) enables this by actively creating opportunities for the Trent’s to shine in a real and visible way.

Giving these ‘great’ performers a chance to show they can be spectacular.

Getting the right group around them (Coach, Mentor, Sponsor) to understand true capability and potential.

It’s not immediate promotions, careless risk, or huge investment into MBA’s and Exec Coaching, it’s simply providing some support and a stage for the slightly left of centre, to understand what ‘could be’.

For Trent Sainsbury, his ‘stretch assignment’ and visible opportunity will undoubtedly change his life forever. A European club (likely), will benefit from his ability, and at least for now, I imagine this will be at a lower price than some of the other shining star players (a bit of the raised eyebrow sneaking in again).  Most importantly, Trent’s dream of playing Soccer at the highest level will come true (yes, the optimist in me prevails once again).

So what could this mean for your business and you as a Leader?

Could the simple act of giving an opportunity to your Trent Sainsbury’s be the thing that uncovers the people that will propel your business forward? The thing that shifts the focus of your Talent discussions from definitional arguments into opportunities that make a real positive impact?

Perhaps this type of approach to Talent and opportunity may be the thing that changes your career and life forever.