I recently watched the movie Air: Courting a Legend on Prime Video. It stars Matt Damon as John Paul Vincent “Sonny” Vaccaro, the former sports marketing executive who worked with Nike, Adidas, and Reebok. The movie tells the story of how Vaccaro got Michael Jordan his first sneaker contract with Nike. Vaccaro is also the person who brought Kobe Bryant to Adidas.
I enjoyed the movie because it highlighted the importance of talent scouts. People who are passionate about identifying and nurturing talent. All companies can learn from the sports and entertainment industries. You can build a stronger pool of talent in your organization by following two basic principles.
- Identify Talent Scouts by Focusing on Individuals and Traits
The first step is to recognize talent scouts. In large organizations this task is often assigned to the function of human resources. But in my experience, great talent scouts can be found throughout the company. They are not relegated to specific departments or functions. The key is to search for individuals with the following traits:
- Grassroots Effort – talent scouts want to identify talent as early as possible, and they are excited to get out of the office to do so. Sonny Vaccaro is famous for working with NBA stars, but he cofounded the first national high school All-Star game and ran basketball camps to showcase high school basketball standouts. Bringing promising players together allowed them to learn from each other and develop faster. Good scouts know the strengths and development opportunities of early-in-career colleagues and mid-level managers, not just senior leaders.
- Analytical / Have a System – talent scouts get into the detail because they are trying to isolate unique combinations that drive results. How can we recognize a person with raw talent, from someone who has talent and grit, versus someone who has talent, grit, and emotional intelligence? Look for colleagues who have a system for assessing multiple human traits and dimensions. Good scouts have ideas for creating “dream teams” groups of colleagues that will work well together and complement each other.
- Relationship Builder – it takes time, integrity, and support to build trusting relationships. Talent scouts must convey belief and support before talent reaches its full potential. They plant the seeds of success, encourage the effort required to be great, and are present at moments of failure and self-doubt. Good scouts have diverse and expansive networks both within and outside the organization and/or industry.
- Give Them Space and Reward Their Efforts
The second principle is to provide a place within the organization and reward their efforts. This is more difficult than it appears on the surface. Most organizations cannot afford to hire a group of full-time talent scouts. Visionary and effective senior leaders craft unique job descriptions based on the scout’s knowledge and experience. The position must be senior enough to garner the respect of colleagues, but offer the flexibility needed to search for, and interact with high-potential talent. Examples of senior, but flexible job titles include:
- Chief of Staff – allows access to senior team and meetings.
- Head of Strategic Initiatives – matches the talent scout with the most important initiatives of the organization and the opportunity to manage people and budget.
- Head of Development – a generic title that offers maximum flexibility.
- Head of Integration – if the organization has recently acquired another company, this is a great role to assess and identify the best talent from each organization.
Finally, you must find a way to reward talent scouts for nurturing talent. Special bonuses or stock options may make sense if the roles they occupy don’t have large profit and loss responsibilities. Don’t forget that scouts are not always motivated by the same things as other executives. They may not want that next promotion but would value more time and resources to implement creative ideas.
Finding people who have the knowledge and skills to make the organization’s vision a reality is pivotal to long-term success. Talent scouts help you identify and develop the team. Look for leaders that have diverse, multi-level networks, a system for assessing talent, and a reputation as a trusted partner, mentor, and sponsor.