Success is determined not only by the amount of talent in an organization, but also by how that talent is deployed. Effectively deploying talent requires long-term tasks to be broken into a sequence of short-term tasks, with each success on these short-term tasks contributing to the completion of the long-term task.
A dilemma arises when managers decide how much of an organization’s talent should be dedicated to each of these short-term tasks. On the one hand, dedicating too much talent to a task will lead to a quick win, but employees are likely to feel depleted and burned out afterward, meaning there is less talent to dedicate to subsequent tasks. On the other hand, putting too little talent into a short-term task will preserve employees for later tasks, but it means that the task at hand is likely to take longer or be completed with less quality.
Effective managers know how to dedicate talent in such a way that it is only used when most needed. However, there is little scientific research to guide managers on how to do this.
TEAM ALLOCATION OF TALENT
To address this gap in the research, the authors of this study (Beck, Schmidt, & Natali, 2019) examined how teams strategically delegate talent toward the completion of both short- and long-term goals. They examined data from the National Hockey League (NHL). The long-term goal of all teams in the league is to make it to the championship playoffs. This long-term goal is divided into a series of short-term tasks – specific games and plays within games. Putting a talented player on the ice increases the chances of having a successful play and winning the game, but it also places physical demands on the player, resulting in fatigue and potential injuries, both of which prevent these players from being put on the ice later, when they might be needed. For that reason, the teams cannot field the best players all the time, but instead must regulate when they use their talent.
Based on their analysis of the data, the researchers confirmed that teams face a tradeoff when fielding talented players. While fielding a talented player increases short-term success in a particular play or game, it means that these players cannot be used in subsequent plays or games, which imperils the long-term success of the team. In other words, they confirmed that teams have a finite pool of talent that they must deploy strategically to accomplish their long-term goals. Generally speaking, teams fielded talented players most when they were narrowly losing a game, but they tended to use talented players less when they were winning or losing by a large margin. Teams that carefully allocated their resources in this fashion were more likely to accomplish their long-term goal of making it into the playoffs.
PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
Organizations often focus on acquiring talent, but this study shows that an organization’s success is determined not only by the amount of talent that it has, but also on how that talent is deployed. The teams analyzed in the dataset performed better when they effectively allocated their talent. Similarly, organizations that effectively allocate their talent avoid overworking their employees, leaving them available when later challenges arise.
Managers who are charged with assigning employees to tasks should closely examine the demands of the specific situation and also consider long-term goals before allocating talent. One way to promote this behavior among managers is to use a structured debriefing after tasks are completed. During this debrief, employees can recount what they did while completing the task, noting what was most and least effective. This will yield insight into how resources were allocated to different parts of the task and help managers make more effective decisions in the future.
Beck, J. W., Schmidt, A. M., & Natali, M. W. (2019). Efficient proximal resource allocation strategies predict distal team performance: Evidence from the National Hockey League. Journal of Applied Psychology, 104(11), 1387–1403.