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    If you work in the field of Human Resources, or if you are a manager or supervisor of people, you are probably like me.  You are always looking to learn from the wisdom and experience of others when it comes to talent management.  And you maybe like me in that you are looking at how lessons from other areas of life can be applied to the management of people in the workplace to help employees and organizations achieve their potential. (See How to Build Employee Engagement Through Kindness ) One area of life that is often cited as a prime training ground for young people to learn important lessons later applicable to their occupations and the workplace is sports.

    Coach talent management lessons

    SHRM executive and writer Tony Lee recently told a story about how his recreational league softball coaching experience with elementary and middle school girls had taught him talent management lessons applicable to the workplace.  (In addition to teaching him extraordinary patience and a few new insights into his personality, I’m sure.)  Now, of course the world of girls’ recreational league softball is not the world of work.  But we know that human behavior is relatively consistent across settings and ages and there are many commonalities.  We know that success in sports, like success in work, requires personal commitment, focus, communication skills, teamwork, and a shared vision (not to mention physical skills). Like work, sports can place high demands on participants. It can be fun but also stressful.  As with most everything in life, it’s not “all fun , all the time.” And it requires a subservience and subornation of one’s own ambitions and needs to the overall goal of the community of the team and the organization. A competent servant leader/coach is hopefully another positive commonality.

    What Coach Lee observed in his softball team was attrition in attention among some of his players as the softball season progressed with its ups and downs.  Their initial enthusiasm, on display during the “interview”  stage when players were being recruited and in early practices and games had dramatically waned for some of the aspiring athletes.  They became increasingly bored and inattentive.  That this game (work) is not fun anymore is what they seemed to be communicating with their behavior and sometimes with their words or lack thereof.  Though physically present, they only seemed to be going through the motions.  You’ve never seen that in your workplace, have you?  Presenteeism, right? Some girls’ desire to learn the game and get better by developing their skills had diminished. They seemed increasingly content to let the more engaged and capable teammates carry the load. Some stopped regularly attending practice and even attending the games.  Excuses became more common. Absenteeism began to join its unhappy companion, presenteeism.  Still Coach Lee’s girls’ softball team led the league in the regular season.  Good performers carried the load.  They easily made the playoffs with a chance to advance to the championship game. But in that round of games, the rules changed to be inclusive of all players.  Meaning everyone who showed up had to bat and play.  Everyone.  Not good for their prospects for glory.  The less engaged, poorly practiced players suddenly returned, cheered on by their now equally and newly engaged parents.  No doubt the  girls had visions of an oversized trophy in their future as the championship opportunity loomed for the whole team.  They were now eager to be a part of a Winner and the reap the winning rewards.  But the results were not pretty.  While the dedicated high performers on the team did well as always, they couldn’t carry the team to victory. The newly enthusiastic but not very capable or practiced players did poorly, just as one who observes the law of natural consequences would expect.  The championship was not to be. Disappointment and tears abounded. In the post-game huddle, some girls who showed up just for the playoff game commented that well, at least they would have the next evening free. Disengagement had returned in spades. Some of the regular, higher performing players were very unhappy with the others who had shown such decreasing engagement over the season and had shown up (only to do poorly) at the worst possible time in terms of the team’s vision for success.

    Teach the concept of teamwork

    Human Resource executive, Lee, commented that one lesson he learned from this experience was to focus on the apparent weakest, least engaged players and teach them about the concept of teamwork. And to do that early in the process. (In the workplace this might start during hiring and onboarding.) He taught and stressed how being a part of a team is a commitment to others on the team and it’s also a commitment to the team’s goal, or in workplace parlance, the organization’s mission. He learned to stress this theme in the formative stage of development of the next season’s team. Or, as in the probationary period of employment of new workplace team members. He found that this sort of focus bore fruit.  It helped strengthen commitment of those players who want to be on the team.  Both to their teammates and to the team’s mission. He found this to be one way to determine early, and much better than later on, who was on-board and who was not.  And to get the “nots” motivated and engaged or off the team sooner than later, before their disengagement hampered the organization’s success.

    Now, I don’t know if Mr. Lee is headed for the Girls’ Recreational Softball Hall of Fame or not.  Maybe the HR wing of the Hall.  But these seem like good lessons for talent management in any setting!

    If you’re interested in other commentary and insights into how talent management lessons from outside work can be had, please see my blog post Can Lessons From Family Life Make You A Better Manager?  Especially if you are “merely” a parent and not a girls’ softball coach.

    About the Author

    Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr for over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.

    About Espyr

    For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions – solutions like our AI powered chatbot, TESS – to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.


    Talent Management Lessons Learned From 12-Year-Olds

    Tony Lee

    May 18, 2021




    Song by John Fogerty


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