3 Hiring Lessons from a Sports Playbook

Recently, I had the opportunity to cheer my daughter on at her high school volleyball tournament. And the event was larger than I had expected, bringing in about 500 high school freshman and sophomore athletes. Talk about a competition!

As I was sitting in the stands during one match, I noticed a camera out of the corner of my eye. After a while, I noticed another, and another. Behind those cameras were college recruiters, who peppered the stands like a “Where’s Waldo?” puzzle. I watched as the ones near me recorded stats and scribbled furious notes.

Seeing all that activity, I realized that schools were looking ahead two or more years to find the best talent for their college volleyball programs. I couldn’t help but think of my friend Jack Daly’s popular quote: “Most sports teams are run better than your business.” Unlike some businesses, colleges know that they need to recruit talent before they need it. That’s an important lesson.

For business leaders, this chicken-and-egg game is often flip-flopped. Management or executives in charge of hiring wait until a need presents itself before worrying about filling it. Then they fill it as soon as possible, meaning the best candidate isn’t lined up for the role.

Below are three lessons for leaders to take from the sports playbook and use it to their hiring advantage:

1. Think about future seasons.

For sports coaches, success comes when they envision where the team will be in future seasons. At Petra Coach, we work with businesses to build similar one-, two- and three-year hiring roadmaps based on how they project the growth of their business. By doing this, leaders can take a step back and see an overview of their work. We help them envision their “game plan” by asking questions like, “What will cause your company to add personnel and when?” and, “What skills or experience will you need when this growth happens?”

When teams are focused on grueling day-to-day workloads, it may seem difficult to answer hypotheticals, but I promise: If leaders make an effort to think about hiring before they need it, they’ll be setting themselves and their companies up for success.

2. Build a (long-term) game plan.

Of course, a proactive hiring process doesn’t end with just thinking about it. Businesses should build out an organizational chart or game plan of what the company will look like in the future.

That game plan will allow leaders to effectively outline specific hiring needs down the road and recognize gaps in roles or responsibilities. The chart then enables managers to find the right prospects and keep them pre-qualified and ready for whenever the need might come up.

3. Create your bench.

The last step in the method? Recruit – not only when positions need to be filled, but well in advance. Based on the organizational chart, the team can build a “virtual bench,” which is exactly what it sounds like – a roster of candidates from which businesses can pull.

When interviewing to fill the bench, be upfront that it is for the future need of the company. The key to a good bench is having A-players pre-qualified and ready to go. That also means touching base with your top applicants from time to time to maintain the relationships you’ve established and to know if your or their needs change.

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post.