When Your Top Talent Stops Performing

Dan Carusi Dan Carusi, HR, Performance

This has been a difficult season for sports fans in Washington, DC.  We had high expectations for both the Washington Nationals and Redskins considering they both won their Divisions and saw post season play last year.  However, the Nationals will finish a distant second behind the Atlanta Braves missing the playoffs and the Skins are off to an uninspiring 1 and 3 start as of the bye week.

Professional coaches rely on their top talent to perform every game to help deliver a championship season for the city and the fans.  After all, is that not why they are paid some serious dollars?  So what do you do when your top talent goes flat?  Let’s look at pitcher Steven Strasburg for the Nats: clearly not performing at the phenom level he did last season. And RGIII, a very shaky start coming off a season ending injury, knee surgery and a long recovery.

The Nats will spend the off-season re-evaluating talent and making the necessary player changes.  The Redskins have the remainder of the season ahead of them and need more out of their talent if they have any dreams of making another run for the playoffs.  So for the Redskins it will come down to talent and execution.  I can see the coaches huddled up in a room debating as to how they can get more out of their top talent and to reverse the trend of under-performing athletes.

What do you do with your top talent when they stop performing?  Do you invest and develop them or cut them loose?  How long do you keep them in the starting line up before clearing a nice open space on the bench for them?  I have no doubt that both the Skins and Nats will invest in RGIII and Strasburg versus letting them go.  Let’s not kid ourselves; organizations build their franchise and strategy around young, top performing athletes.  They will continue to learn, grow and become even better as they mature as professional athletes.

Did I really just write that?  Recruit young top talent; invest in their development so they grow to be the best at what they do.  This is a very clear and simple Talent Management strategy that almost every CEO and HRCO will be able to agree with.  However, there is the 800-pound hairy gorilla in the room.  This strategy takes time!  We want to win the championship every quarter and year so let’s go buy the talent and hope they assimilate into the culture and exceed performance expectations.  Some times that works and many times it does not.  Why do you think so many professional sports team rebuild their teams with new, young talent that they can develop over a couple of seasons?

No matter what we do, there will be periods of time when our top talent does not perform at the level expected.  It’s human nature and there will be some good runs and some that are not so good.  So we need to “coach” them by teaching, developing and inspiring them to be successful.  Instead of beating the crap out of them and threatening to let them go, help them understand what is impacting their performance, remove obstacles they may be running into, foster a culture where they can be successful and motivate them to return back to their winning ways.

Yes, this is a more difficult approach for leaders versus buying new talent but it’s an approach that you can build a strategy and team around.  Oh that’s right, the hairy gorilla in the room.  Yes, we still need to deliver on quarterly and yearly targets but I will argue there is a better chance of success with an inspired, talented team that continues to be developed versus buying talent – but that is a decision you will need to noodle over.

RGIII and Strasburg are going to be around for a while as long their bodies allow them to perform and I’m sure I will be wearing my burgundy & gold when the Skins take to the field for their next game.  Washington, DC fans are going to see their championship in the future as long as coaches continue to develop their top talent, build a team around them and inspire top talent to play at a level they never thought possible.  If not, hockey season is starting so let’s go Caps and Rock the Red!

Dan Carusi
As current Vice President & Chief Learning Officer for Deltek, Dan Carusi doesn’t know which he likes more – teaching or learning.  A father of two, Scout leader and coach, Dan is often learning as much from the kids as they are learning from him (or possibly more).  With more than 20 years of experience, Dan is responsible for overseeing Deltek University and the Talent & Learning organization, where he oversees all aspects of talent management, curriculum development, operations & delivery, global employee & customer education and Human Capital consulting – often using what he learns from the kids as tools for teaching, with the end goal of making life-long learners out of everyone.  Teach Dan something at “email”, LinkedIn or @DanielCarusi.