Talent Lessons From The Super Bowl – Prioritization Leads To Excellence (Allocating resources to high-impact areas will improve your results)

I’ve found that the highest impact transferable practice from the NFL to business is prioritization. And if you’re not familiar with the concept, when something receives a higher priority. The organization places a laser focus and narrowly targets an area where allocating more resources is essential in order to be completely successful.

Prioritizing the allocation of resources is often necessary. Because no matter how well-off the organization is, there is still a limit to what an area of the business can have both in terms of budget and talent. And where spreading the resources out equally may actually allow the most essential ones to come up dangerously short. That priority usually includes more staff, additional time, a faster response time, more employees/managers, and greater resources.

Many other business functions are already well known for extensive prioritization, including strategic planning, supply chain, marketing, and sales support. Also, many customers are even prioritized because some customers deserve it because they simply spend more money or buy higher profit margin products.

Example #1 – Prioritization Had A Major Impact On This Year’s Super Bowl Teams

This year, surprisingly, both Super Bowl teams independently put a priority on attracting potentially powerful wide receivers. And in part because of this prioritization, both teams lead their individual conferences with a winning record. 

And in order to meet its priorities, Kansas City successfully traded for wide receiver Macavious Tony. And during this year’s Super Bowl, he, among his many other accomplishments, ran back a punt, which led to a touchdown. And at 65 yards, it was literally the longest punt return in Super Bowl history. 

The Eagles set a similar priority for more strength at wide receiver. The Eagles traded a first-round draft pick for pro bowl receiver AJ Brown. And as a result, the Eagles had a 13 – 1 record (the best in the NFL). And during the 2023 Super Bowl, AJ Brown scored a momentum-changing 45-yard touchdown.

The 5 Critical Talent Areas That Are Usually Prioritized

Even to reach the Super Bowl, teams need to emphasize and prioritize several important talent areas. Those five areas that are usually prioritized are listed below with the most impactful prioritization areas listed first.

  • Individuals that make a unique contribution and who are difficult to replace – on the road to the Super Bowl, I have found that certain individuals that have extraordinary experience and skills are literally irreplaceable in the short term. Those irreplaceable players (i.e., Patrick Mahomes) and a few well-known coaches (i.e., Andy Reid) should be prioritized. Because even though every person serving in either of these two roles will likely make a high contribution. Some unique individuals should be prioritized well above the average person serving in a quarterback or a coaching position. Because these few unique individuals in key positions have truly advanced skills, experience, and contacts/relationships that make them especially hard to replace. In addition, some individuals that are placed on the succession plan should also be prioritized. And each of these unique individuals should be given the highest priority for retention, development, internal movement, and compensation.
  • Positions with the highest impact should be prioritized there are some positions where everyone that works in them has a high impact on your organization’s overall results. In the NFL, these strategic impact positions often include quarterback, wide receiver, pass rusher, running back, general manager, and the coaches above the assistant level. On the business side, key positions often include data security, technologists, sales managers, and machine learning experts.
  • Teams that make the highest contributions – on the road to the Super Bowl, most head coaches find that their highest impact football unit is often the offense. At least this year, “defense didn’t win a championship.” With the total scoring reaching over 80 points. And after the defense, special teams and the training staff are often the next priority teams. Where in direct contrast, focusing resources on “special teams” has seldom had the highest impact on winning. In business, the teams that directly generate revenue, provide customer service, or develop products often have the highest impact (so they are assigned a high priority). And therefore playing on one of these company teams usually means that you will also receive more compensation because you are serving on the team that the organization has set determined to have a strategic impact.
  • Essential skills need to be prioritized – in our fast-changing business world, the essential skills of your workforce will need to be continually upgraded. And that means that employees that have either current or future essential skills will be given priority in retention and training. And that hiring for these positions that require these future skills will be given priority in recruitment.
  • Those working on major problems and opportunities need to be prioritized – individuals (or teams) that are working on a current major strategic problem or opportunity with a high dollar impact. Would normally be given a high priority because they have such a great impact on a major corporate project.

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High-Impact Talent Management Areas That Should Be Prioritized

Not all subfunctions within the overall talent management area produce the same level of business impacts. And one BCG study found that the following 8 talent subareas have the most actual impact on corporate revenue and profit.

Recruiting
Onboarding
Retention
Managing /developing the workforce
Employer branding
Performance management
Rewards
Leadership

It’s also true that not all areas within any individual talent management subfunction will not have an equal impact. For example, in the recruiting function, employer branding and sourcing generally have a much higher business impact than your reference-checking process. So branding and sourcing should both be prioritized within the recruiting subfunction.

Prioritization Doesn’t Have To Result In Bad Treatment Or Low Morale

Prioritization is the process of identifying which areas should get the fastest or the most attention. However, lower priority jobs, employees or managers under most approaches purposely avoid making any individual or group feel like “second-class citizens”. Yes, their budget may be a little smaller, their response may be a little slower, and advice may come from a more Junior HR employee. However, the same promised level of quality will be maintained throughout. Incidentally, if you’re concerned about creating a ruckus, there is no hard and fast rule that requires that HR reveal to lower-level managers and employees that their service is being prioritized. Or what priority they are assigned.

Example #2 – Compensation Dollars Should Also Be Allocated Based On Priority 

Obviously, one of the ways to make a prioritized job more attractive is to pay more for prioritized jobs and individuals. For example, in the NFL, years ago, the Seattle Seahawks had $154.5 million to allocate to 53 players. And under the “equal treatment union approach,” everyone on the same team would get paid equally (in this case. each player would get $3 million). However, under their combined individual, position, and team prioritization, an amazingly disproportionate 60% of the salary allocation went to only 10 individual players. Of which, 7 played on defense and only 3 were on offense (showing this organization prioritized their defense that year).

Example #3 – This Year, One Team Served As A Clear Example Of The Cost Of Under-Resourcing A Position

The critical importance of prioritizing revealed itself in the championship game right before the Super Bowl. When the San Francisco 49ers assigned a too-low priority to the quarterback position. And subsequently during the game, they lost both of their available quarterbacks during their last elimination game (after losing two other starting quarterbacks earlier in the season). So that only a running back was available to fill in for the injured quarterbacks that Sunday. 

If the quarterback position had been made a higher priority. Team management would have made sure that they invested heavily in maintaining another strong backup QB for the rest of the season. In my view, talent management leaders should realize that both in the Super Bowl and in the business world. Your overall performance will likely suffer if you don’t accurately prioritize individuals, key positions, teams, problems, and skills. 

Final Thoughts

Because the accurate prioritization of talent in your workforce has so many operational impacts, talent leaders should demand that your prioritization process be both transparent and objective. And to ensure that that happens, smart talent managers should work directly with the offices of the COO and the CFO (who are both experts on impact). To ensure that both the impacts and the determined priorities are done with complete accuracy. 

And also, remember that these priorities shouldn’t be set in stone. Instead, they should be adjusted periodically just as your business and the environment around it begin to shift. Note: you can learn more about the details on how HR can help to prioritize by clicking here.

Author’s Note

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About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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