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How to successfully scout talent

Eventually, there will come a time when you’ll need to recruit managers. Whether it be due to organisational growth, and you no longer have the time to manage everyone yourself. Or because the company is in transition and you’ve set up new departments/teams. At the end of the day: you’ll need someone you can trust to competently take over the managerial tasks, giving you the freedom to focus on the bigger picture.


You have two options when appointing managers: external or internal recruitment. There are benefits to both but we always prefer to recruit from within. It’s better for business in the long term: candidates already understand the company dynamic and are committed. Plus, showing you invest in your people sets a tone with the rest of the workforce. In reality however, internal recruitment can have it’s pitfalls. How can you tell who is ready, willing and able to take on the challenging transition from specialist to manager?

We regularly encounter the following scenarios:

  1. You select your top performing specialists to become manager
    They understand the business, work fast, are proactive and their peers love working with them. When asked they’re apprehensive, but in the end accept the position. They like a good challenge. After a couple of months, you start to notice the drive and passion you are used to seeing has started to wane. All of a sudden your new manager decides that they preferred their old role and want to go back to being a specialist. After this step back, they’re never quite able to get back in to their old rhythm, have lost energy and end up leaving the company for a specialist role with your competitor.
  2. You give the role to someone who’s green but really keen to be a manager
    This person is very ambitious and has big plans for their career. You figure that this could be a great learning experience for them. The first couple of months go well, but in time you start to notice a decline in morale amongst their team; they don’t feel heard. The new manager is too self absorbed to recognise and utilise the skills of their people. After a while, the manager moves on to chase their dreams elsewhere and leaves you, and a demotivated team, to clean up their mess.

Ring any bells?

Talent spotting

We hear a lot of discussion around the following steps to transitioning a specialist into a management role:

  • The general tasks and job description of a manager
  • How to engage with personnel
  • What their place will be in the organisational structure

However, the first and most important step barely even gets a mention. We’re talking about talent spotting.

Talent spotting is an underrated yet essential skill. It is something that can easily go wrong, and we see it happen often. This oversight can result in huge consequences and setbacks for your business. Just look at the situations described above: what do you think happens when you make these mistakes a few times? Do you think the morale amongst your workers will stay high? Or that their great results will remain consistent? Nope…Exactly!

Talent spotting is a talent in itself, and tricky for three reasons:
Firstly bias, everyone is biased, it’s human nature: you promote the people that you like or the ones that shout the loudest. Leaving the more introverted amongst your people feeling invisible, without getting their chance to shine.

Secondly, you are making assumptions based on emotion rather than facts and hard data. The ability to spot the right talent is an instinct which you develop over time. When is it good enough and how can you tell if someone is taking advantage? These are the decisions that can make or break your business.

Bias and emotion are soft skills, they can be worked on and improved over time. They are definitely something that we can help you with (just not in this article).

The third reason is that talent spotting is based on psychology: there are barely any leaders that are also psychologists. Knowing what motivates a person in the long and short term and how this changes in the transition process is key. This psychological aspect is based on a relatively simple theory.

Psychology of the transition

According to books Drive and Flow, the long and short term motivations and the corresponding changes associated with a transition can be split into four categories:

  1. Flow: a specialist goes from having specific goals, deadlines and quick feedback to fragmented goals (more plates to spin) and delayed feedback (you don’t see the fruit of your labour until the trees have grown).
  2. Autonomy: most people expect that a manager will have more flexibility and make more of an impact. In reality, there are more restrictions (that can’t be swept under the rug) and responsibilities: a classic paradox.
  3. Mastery: people take pride in mastering skills. Don’t forget, being a manager is an entirely new role. Lots of the skills that have been developed so far in the career as a specialist are no longer necessary.
  4. Purpose: It is human nature to want to contribute to the greater good. In a specialist role it’s very clear what this is. As a manager, however, this becomes blurry. Many new managers experience a ‘purpose vacuum’ because they find it hard to relate their own efforts to the bigger picture.

How to scout talent

So, your task of spotting talent just got a whole lot more complicated. But trust us, when you take these things in to consideration, you’re increasing your chance of success. Give yourself the time to master this skill and reap the long term rewards.

We look for the following natural characteristics, when spotting talent:

  • Empathy: can they work well with a variety of personality types and people from different levels in the organisational hierarchy?
  • Do they understand the organisational structure: can they make the link between the different departments?
  • Do they have a natural need to do their best work, (even when their boss isn’t watching)? Don’t confuse this with drive or ambition which can become political.
  • Shared values with the company: do they believe in the work they are doing?
  • Do they have enough substantive knowledge: will they ask the right questions?
  • Do they have a high AQ (adaptability quotient)? Will they be able to change with the times and the economy?

These qualities may seem difficult to measure. But asking these questions should help separate the wheat from chaff:

  • Have they coordinated projects that have transcended the team/department?
  • Do they think on a higher level about opportunities and possible problems within the organisation? And do they motivate other people/teams/departments to brainstorm with them and bring their ideas to fruition.
  • Are they willing to learn from others (mentors)? Do they want to share their knowledge to teach and expand the knowledge of others.
  • Could they confidently and successfully pitch the company to outsiders? Could their charisma entice new talent to the organisation?

Of course, there are also important hard skills to be considered (communication, prioritisation, the ability to multitask ect). However, in general, these are skills that can be learned and developed.

Change is never easy, the long road of transition will have highs and lows for you and your talent. Be patient, they will succeed and become fully fledged, self reliant and competent managers. And you’ll be free and able to fully focus on other challenges for your growing business.

Written by:

Commercial Growth

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