The Truth Behind Talent



Tips to identify, nurture and develop talent in your organisation

On 5th August 2016, the attention of the world will turn to Rio de Janeiro for the Olympic Games. We will marvel at the almost effortless precision, speed, strength and stamina of the world’s greatest athletes. The media will tell us stories of triumph against adversity, of human limits being pushed further than we ever thought possible and of Great British athletes charging up the medal table.

But where do these stars start out? Are they really super human?

After the 2012 Olympic Games, I had the incredible fortune of spending 2 years working with the Great Britain Cycling team, as their Talent and Development Manager. The secret behind the British success, as with other talent hotbeds around the world, lies in the environment, created by a world-class team of incredibly dedicated experts, which supports the athletes with detailed precision. Try spending every training session surrounded by World and Olympic champions and an expert coaching team, without feeling inspired and supported to achieve the previously unthinkable.

These athletes are more than a cog in the machine that is the British Cycling team though. Research from UK Sport has found that Olympic multi-medallists are not normal! They are conscientious, perfectionists, obsessive, optimistic, hopeful, resilient. They are able to use their anxiety positively and cope well with adversity and as one would well imagine, they have not become experts without an enormous investment in practice.


Post London 2012, the British government pledged to be the first nation to provide our Olympic and Paralympic athletes who could demonstrate true 2016 medal potential, with more funding than was received in the 4-year cycle leading up to London 2012. The impact of this funding has enabled our sports to build lasting world class development systems, which are revered globally.

The development journey starts with the sport deciding where to invest their resources to maximise chances of Olympic success; this occurs through extensive research and expert insight. Once this information is gathered, talent identification / talent transfer may be the highlighted means to fill medal gaps or attract individuals with more medal potential to the sport. This would involve an initial round of athlete testing - expertly designed to mirror the skills / actions / physiological requirements of the sport. Historical information is gathered on the individuals through performance lifestyle interviews, to ensure ‘talent that whispers’ doesn’t go unnoticed.


Those individuals who show signs of potential are then invited to join a confirmation programme. This stage further investigates the athletes’ learning mindset, personal resilience, coachability and physiological responsiveness to training through a variety of challenges, experiences and tasks in monitored camp and competition situations. The athletes which make it through this phase then join a formal development programme, which will tailor and monitor their training and competition programme and progression, as they move through the performance pathway. It should be noted that at every stage of the pathway, there are opportunities for ‘outsiders’ to join the programme should they show the right physiological and psychological attributes, and tactical ability to challenge for international medals.

This rigorous process ensures that only the very best talent makes it onto the National team pathway, to reach the Olympic Games. However, far too often in business this rigour isn’t brought into the assessment and development process.  For example, a recent industry report highlighted that only just over half of organisations have programmes to identify (53%) and develop (52%) high potential talent – but even fewer (42%) use assessment, of any kind, for Identifying high-potential talent (***CEB global assessment trends report 2014).


Below are some tips for your organisation to implement when identifying, nurturing and developing talent:

1. A performance environment should never be too comfortable. Set an environment that constantly aims to challenge and develop your talent to become the best they can be.

2. If you search for talent in the same way and the same places as your competitors, you’ll find the talent that everyone else finds. Be innovative in your approach.

3. Look for the talent that whispers. Listen for the story, the theme, the reasons driving performance to identify those individuals that others wouldn’t necessarily class as talent.

4. Have a crystal clear understanding of the core competencies that drive success in a particular role.


The British Cycling team are clearly one of the great talent success stories to come out in the last few years. If you look at some of their methods and the rigour they apply to their processes and use that in your own organisations then it will help you to attract and develop the best possible talent. Not only that, but it will more than likely put you ahead of your competitors when it comes to unearthing talent.

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