Make The Right Moves For Your Talent Reviews

Make The Right Moves For Your Talent Reviews

      Everyday is a talent review day around here.  Most days are the informal moments where the work of talent management usually happens. A decision is made to fill the open sales manager spot with an experienced pro. An impressive presentation is given to a team of senior executives and the CEO makes a mental note to keep an eye on an up-and-coming marketing director as a high potential.


      There are also formal times where we try to bring order and structure to the informality of talent planning and development.  Formal events are necessary as sometimes the daily press of business causes less than optimal decisions:  the sales slot should be filled by someone with a higher potential profile; the hot-shot marketing director needs a tougher assessment before moving up.


Right Steps For Discussion


     There is a collection of right steps, a toolkit of techniques, to inspire useful and productive talent review meetings where authentic discussion engage line leaders to manage the talent portfolio well.   I’ve learned not to take the success of the discussions for granted. I live by a checklist every year when orchestrating the review. My list to encourage interaction includes:



  • Signal relevance and interaction early.  As the early topics are turned to, there is often a critical moment where an unspoken ground-rule is set for participants to “play in safe and not engage” or “join in the fun.”  It’s useful to manage this item early by engineering an interactive topic or inserting questions which signal this is a working session for all.


  • Add something interesting and unexpected.   Break out of the mold of standard HR affairs by sprinkling the agenda with something unique.  Starting the meeting with slide show with upbeat music about the future, presenting new scorecard of talent process and showing a provocative, counterintuitive analysis of talent trends are all ways to inject interest.


  • Coaching line leaders to view the talent meetings as important forums to apply their critical thinking and creativity as other working business sessions.  The real value is in the discussion, not the ritualistic review of data or stale facts.  Encourage different views and options to talent considerations.



Derailment Up Ahead!


      The other checklist I bring into the meeting are ‘in the heat of battle’ tools to keep things on track, starting with derailment signals.  I listen hard to conversations which may signal trouble up ahead.  While not all can be uncovered in one meeting, I will probe further when I hear certain themes emerge, such as:



  • Technical star performer with poor team skills. Results may overshadow interpersonal weaknesses that become more important over time.  There are often leaders who perennially leave team problems in their wake as they drive for results.


  • A star in his or her own universe.  This is a promising performer who hasn’t really been stretched with new challenges or new settings to advance their abilities.  A manager can master one job in one set of circumstances yet becomes narrow over time due to the lack of breadth. 


  • Yesterday’s star with mediocre or declining results today. Sometimes managers are in role too long and lose their edge to produce fresh solutions to new challenges.  This is usually time to ask about finding a different, revitalizing job for the incumbent and look for best ‘trade up’ replacements. 



Greater Potential Up Ahead


     Quite the opposite of confronting a derailment situation is digging for unappreciated or underdeveloped talent.  Sometimes executives underplay these up-and-coming managers as a way of hording talent.  Occasionally the performer’s style may not sync well with their managers and are under appreciated for the talent they possess.   Three of my favorite potential ‘accelerators’ include:


  • Can See Around the Corner.  This is the leader who receives high marks for getting out in front of an issue or opportunity before it is present.  Sometimes it takes the form of anticipating a problem or setting a vision for his or her team that becomes the right direction as time goes on.


  • Unusual Organization Savvy.  A leader who has the uncanny ability to rally resources across organizational boundaries or can cut through divisional barriers to produce results.


  • Talent Magnet and Builder.  Special leaders draw in talent and also become the launching pad for an unusual amount of the organization’s high potentials.  A careful look at 9-block data or back up charts often point to leaders who attracts the best and grooms the next generation


Top Questions

     To keep the conversation flowing, I’ve seen leaders unlock insights with great starter questions, such as:



  • If we were to put that person in the new role, why would she or he succeed?  What factors might contribute to failure?  How can we engineer the right support for success?


  • Given these two candidates for succession, how would we summarize their critical strengths and shortcomings?  What would they need to demonstrate to increase our confidence in their capabilities to move up?


  • What are the other succession options if this plan proves unrealistic?  What can we do now to increase our options down the road?



      Good talent management balances all the informal, day-to-day actions with the discipline of formal review days.  Genuine discussions about people, capabilities and creative movement are the real objectives of your meetings.  Bring in the right steps and interactive techniques to spark conversation, check for derailment and uncover unappreciated talent. 

© Kevin D. Wilde