Last month, news that Beckham had been sidelined from Team GB men’s Olympic football team kicked off a bout of rage from football lovers and non football lovers alike. Perhaps it is that I belong to the non football lover’s team, but I struggled to understand the reaction to the news that rated alongside the Libor scandal and indeed the Mayoress of Louth dressed as a Lincolnshire sausage. With my HR hat on, if Beckham doesn’t have the right capabilities for the job, then of course Stuart Pearce has the right to omit him from the team? Right?

Talking to a member of the football lover’s team, who happens to also be a colleague in HR, it appears the answer is perhaps only half right.  She agreed that Beckham certainly has the talent; however with the strict maximum of three players over 23 years of age rule, there are other players who are more likely to score the winning goal for the team. The issue, she argued, sits more in the way the process was handled, namely the last minute decision to omit Beckham from the team and the seemingly lack of loyalty displayed towards the man so crucial in the early stages of the Olympic bid.

The conversation got me thinking. Could the Beckham saga have been better managed? The answer could lie in lessons learned from good talent management.

1)      Ensure transparent selection and assessment process

We all heard the reason for Beckham not making the squad, there were only three places for over 23 year olds permitted on the GB team. How exactly were Micah Richards, Craig Bellamy and Ryan Giggs selected over Beckham? Understanding the squad’s assessment and selection criteria and how Beckham stacked up against this would put any doubt to rest.  

2)      Plan communications to your stakeholders

Over the last two weeks, more about Beckham’s omission from the team has been written in the Daily Mail than the Times. The message? Learn from the papers. Know your audience, develop a communications plan and use the most appropriate channels to communicate to your stakeholders. Keep all messages simple, to the point, and well timed.

3)      Manage expectations of your talent

Until two weeks ago, and before the announcement of the Team GB football team, Victoria and David Beckham had been planning their work schedules around the Olympics, including turning down a number of other commitments on the assumption they would spend the Games in the UK. One of the more visible aspects of this – where the press have paid particular attention – was in the organisation of a large celebratory party at Beckingham Palace. This has now been cancelled, leaving David and Victoria to replan their summer schedules from scratch. Perhaps the most important message of good talent management is to manage expectations – that way your talent can in turn manage expectations of those around them and avoid disappointment.

4)      Reward people for their contribution  

Besides already being popular with the general public, it did not escape anyone’s attention that Beckham played a very clear and visible role in helping London win the Olympic bid in 2005. Through providing personal support to the case – citing his East End roots and the positive impact the Olympics would have on youth in the area – he helped add a further dimension to the bid team. Indeed, the press referred to the bid process as the “Blair and Beckham” double act, which certainly did not go unnoticed. There is therefore a general expectation that Team GB should remember Beckham’s contribution to football and the Olympics, and recognise him by appointing him to a role within the Olympics that builds on his experience and capabilities. If he is not going to be given a role in the team, how else will his contribution be recognised? In a high profile event such as the Olympics, the outcry regarding unfair appointment and lack of reward is hardly surprising and something that we all need to think about in an HR environment.

Select for capability

Appointing Beckham would have been the easy option – he’s popular and everyone likes him.  Unfortunately, many managers appoint purely on this basis and then wonder why they are not seeing the performance they want.  Instead, it seems Stuart Pierce chose to appoint his team based on the right capabilities, which is an approach we in HR commend.   The only question is, did he follow the right process to get to the right outcome?  Not even the Daily Mail knows …