4 keys to winning the talent Super Bowl

Think the Seahawks and Broncos got to Super Bowl XLVIII because they were lucky? No, managing and developing talent were critical to their success, and how they did it offers lessons to government contractors.

One thing is certain about Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVIII: the game will be decided by the talent on the field. That’s also how it is in today’s hyper-competitive government contracting market.

It’s become an all-out war for talent and that’s because companies are starting to realize that recruiting, developing and leading talent is what separates winning contractors from the losers.

Talent is a general term to describe someone’s natural ability. In corporate America, the original classification of employees was “personnel.” Then it evolved into “human resources,” then to “human capital,” and now to “talent.”

One can make the argument that the Super Bowl participants have elite talent that helped them get to the big game. Both teams recruited, developed and led their talent and this is a model they’ve been following since before the first Super Bowl in 1967.

It’s becoming clear that corporate America has something to learn from the upcoming Super Bowl. Here are the top four things I’ve noticed that government contractors can learn about elite executives and leaders from the teams competing in the Super Bowl:

The Big Board

Players from the Broncos and Seahawks were well-represented at the Pro Bowl, the NFL’s annual all-star game. If your industry had a Pro Bowl and only invited the top talent by position, including C-level executives and VPs, would anyone on your strategic leadership team be selected? Or would your competitors’ talent be selected? If so, why aren’t those executives on your team?

Keep a list of the most talented executives you know, or have heard about, and go recruit them.

Scouting Department

Every NFL team has dozens of scouts who have one job – to identify, evaluate and rank external talent. Their role is considered one of the most important in the entire organization.

This differs from coaches who evaluate, rank and lead internal talent (i.e., the player roster). If C-level execs and vice presidents are the equivalent to coaches in the corporate world, then the closest thing to a scouting department in the business world is human resources. But most HR departments focus internally instead of externally.

Bench Strength

Unlike NFL teams, few companies have a solid succession plan – an equivalent to a depth chart – in place to proactively rank and promote talent. This lack of proactive succession planning, either internally or externally, is one of the key differences between the talent game in the NFL and corporate America.

Bench strength should not be seen as a risk mitigation exercise, but a way to propagate a firm's competitive edge.

Game-day Execution

In the NFL, teams play the best and bench the rest. However, in corporate America (including the contractor community), companies do not place enough emphasis on performance by position – and they should.

Making the Post Season

How can contractors up their game to Super Bowl level? First, the contractor community needs to recognize that talent is its main intellectual capital. A major effort should be launched to either build or outsource a talent scouting function to acquire the best talent in the industry, not just the people the company knows.

In identifying, evaluating, ranking, negotiating and recruiting senior executive talent, executive search consultants must play multiple roles – scout, agent and negotiator – all in one.

When all is said and done, in government contracting and in pro football, teams win – not individuals. By constantly scouting for and acquiring Pro Bowl-level talent and aligning talent by skills as well as cultural fit, contractors will build valuable bench strength.

With the right players in the right positions, government contractors can increase their chances of winning the talent Super Bowl. And, like endorsements and pay raises that can come after a Super Bowl, contractors could bring in more contracts.