The Olympic Sport that is Like Recruiting? Figure Skating

As an avid skier, I have been watching the Olympics regularly. As a person who lives baseball, golf, and skiing, I use sports analogies all the time – especially in business. So as I have been watching I have been trying to draw analogies between Alpine Skiing and talent organizations. The speed, agility, technique, and repetition of the races all seem logical to me.

My wife however is not a skier – she is a skater. Just as I grew up playing baseball in the summer, golfing in the fall foliage, and skiing on the white of Colorado, she was working with coaches, competing through the Northeast, and going to Lake Placid each year to compete in national events. So to both of us, the Winter Olympics is kind of a big thing in our house. But it also means I watch lots of skating – which I don’t really care for.

But the more I watch, the more I realize that if talent / recruiting was an Olympic sport – figure skating is probably it. Here is why:

1 – The merging of Art & Science
Any search firm worth its salt has said this in a sales call and talks about the delicate balance. I will admit that in moguls and freestyle skiing there are twists and turns that the skier chooses (just like in snowboarding) but pretty tough to argue that the technical aspects and artistry of figure skating is outmatched.

2 – The Subjective Nature of Scoring
Performance in talent is subjective. That is for sure. We don’t even have a standard for Cost per Hire (although we are working on it). Technically you can measure in recruiting – time to fill, diversity percentages, and so on – but you then measure “experience”. We ask for insight and poll and survey. How did you “feel” in the process? Were you satisfied? Bobsled, Luge, Alpine, Nordic and Speed Skating is about crossing a finish line first. Curling and Biathlon is about accuracy. Halfpipe Snowboard, Freestyle Skiing, Figure Skating and Ice Dancing have artistry, although most would argues that the subjective scoring is led in skating. The way I can say that is all the controversy around the scoring. Take this year’s men’s competition. Or 2006. Or 2002. We keep changing the scoring to make it less subjective, but the fact that there is so much controversy is just wild. You don’t hear any controversy in Alpine skiing. Pretty sure the lowest time wins – doesn’t matter how they go there.

This translates well to talent / recruiting. Performance is so subjective and once more has multiple stakeholders (judges). Talent is working went recruiting, hr, management AND the candidates say so – a very subjective situation for sure.

3 – All the programs have technical moves, with few innovations in technique over time
Sounds like talent. In my lifetime (mid 30s) there have been two innovations in skating – the triple and quad jump. The quad is not even a standard. That is in 30 years. Pretty much the same in talent – few innovations. Technology has played a big role in innovation – but technique – not so much. We still pretty much still view, screen, interview, and reference. Testing has become more regular as a technical process, but all the new technology, sourcing, and etc is just efficiency in a particular technique.

4 – Same Dimensions in the Sport – but No Records
Since you can’t measure objectively, you can’t really have records. The only record you get is most medals over time. Of course the rink is pretty much the same size. The skates are still skates. Just like talent – there are no records to break. In talent we all play by the same rules, and sure there are companies that are better at it than others, but there are no records to break. I never really even though of that until just a few days ago. We all try to be the best and compare each other, but there is not objective way to really do that and claim you are the fastest or best.

You may may be thinking – what about Halfpipe Snowboard? Its technical, artistic, relatively same dimensions, and no records to speak of. It also has few technical innovations. Shaun White pulled out a new trick this year, and it was the first in a while. To that I say – “I agree, but…”

5 – Figure Skaters Don’t Wear Uniforms and Stand Out from the Team
Can’t deny that. Even the US Snowboard team wears the same jacket. But skaters – always their own gear. It usually does not even match the colors of the country’s flag. They stand alone. If you lined up all the US Olympians in the gear they compete it, you would see variations, but the figure skaters would not likley be wearing red, white and blue, and would stick out for sure. If I had to pick a group within HR that is a little on their own, sticks out, and has their own brand – I would have to pick the talent group.

These are not bad things – but being figure skaters, we need to focus on:
1. Our artistry is just as important as our technical prowess. We have to be experts at both.
2. No matter who good we think we are, measurement is subjective. We have to please multiple masters, otherwise we can’t put on a good show.
3. Innovations don’t come often – so focus on the fundamentals – always practice the fundamentals.
4. There is nobody to beat out there. Focus on what you do, practice and execute. Being the best will be interpreted and then perceived.
5. Talent stands out and grabs attention. Be aware of this and leverage as you need.

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