Talent Reviews: How to Have the Conversation in 4 Steps

Talent Reviews: How to Have the Conversation in 4 Steps

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So you want to do a talent review, and you’ve read up on the 9 tips for getting it right. What now?

Talent reviews can be invaluable to leadership teams because, when done well, they spur conversations that shape performance management, talent development, and succession plans – ultimately bringing entire organizations into alignment.  

But if you’re new to the talent review process, getting started can feel intimidating. Here are 4 steps that will make it easy for you to guide those hard conversations:

  1. Set the rules.
  2. Share the tools.
  3. Encourage debate.
  4. Act.

Before the talent review

1. Set the rules

Before engaging in the talent review itself, communicate to everyone participating what the purpose of the upcoming conversation is. This is simple. The purpose of the talent review is to calibrate the way all management and leaders assess employee performance and potential. This helps your company avoid subjectivity and bias in performance reviews. And that ultimately creates a fair workplace for everyone, where the best people are positioned to give your business a competitive edge.

Next, let your managers know what to expect in the review conversation. What will the time look and feel like? What are the desired outcomes? Which guidelines is each manager expected to follow to ensure a fair, equitable process for all?

Remind managers that it’s important to:

  • Involve multiple voices in each evaluation. No employee should be evaluated by only one person.
  • Use data. Rely on goal tracking software and previous performance reviews in order offer less-biased evaluations.
  • Be specific. Avoid generalizations by providing specific examples of behaviors that back up their feedback.

2. Share the tools

Great review conversations happen when everyone comes to the table with their homework done. 

So first, distribute your leadership team’s 9-box to them so that there’s ample time to reflect and form their thoughts before hearing from colleagues. We recommend getting 9-box templates out at least a full week ahead of time. Make sure to give everyone a detailed explanation on how to complete their 9-box in order to promote consistency.

Additionally, it’s important to define key terms on the 9-box before managers begin. For example, what does “strong performance” mean in your organization? Here’s where you draw from your company’s mission statement, vision, and values to target specific behaviors and qualities. Standardizing terms is critical for fairness. 

Finally, require concrete examples of performance and potential. Structure your template to prompt long form answers in support of ratings. No one-word descriptions! These examples will play a significant part of the upcoming talent review conversation.

During the talent review

3. Encourage debate

Who participates in the talent review?

Generally, managers evaluate those who report directly to them, ensuring they’ve had ample opportunity to personally experience the attitudes and behaviors of the person they’re evaluating. However, it’s important to seek input from multiple voices for accuracy, objectivity, and fairness. No one should be reviewed by only one person!

Are there other managers who have worked with the employee in the recent past, or who have had opportunities to experience their work product? Invite them to participate. Senior executives, who may not have direct contact with all employees, can still help guide conversations about the future of the company or department. 

Finally, the talent review conversation should include a facilitator — perhaps someone from HR — who will be present at talent reviews across the company. Their presence can go a long way toward standardizing the reviews (and therefore, increasing fairness). Consider investing in training for several HR personnel to learn to lead talent reviews well. 

What happens during the review itself?

The topics addressed in the meeting will all stem from — you guessed it — each manager’s completed 9-box.

Each manager should offer their own findings about where they placed each of their team members — and most importantly, why they placed them there — providing plenty of supporting examples for their decisions. 

Then, other members of the review team contribute by asking questions and offering feedback. When necessary, an HR leader may present relevant data to help make evidence-based decisions.

Example facilitator questions:

In a successful talent review, the facilitator then asks the group challenging questions, such as:

  • Who’s exceeding expectations and seems ready to climb?
  • Who is critically important to keep?
  • Who’s holding up progress?
  • Where do we have talent gaps?
  • What are our succession plans?
  • Where do we see the company heading?
  • Which roles are most critical for the company in the future?
  • Which employees are likely to be most strategically important? 

The facilitator must be prepared to encourage healthy debate when managers disagree. This is where the magic happens.

After the talent review

4. Act

At the end of the review conversation, hopefully the newly calibrated standards are well understood and agreed upon, and a growth plan is in place. Now, the goal is to answer the question: What is our next move for each employee? 

For each person you evaluate, create a strategic, actionable plan for the future. This may include increased support, skill development, coaching, reassignment, promotion, increased compensation, etc. These plans can then be taken into 1:1s, quarterly performance reviews, and then eventually, the next series of talent reviews. 

Remember that successful talent management and development is about ongoing conversation. 

By holding talent reviews annually, you’ll keep the dialogue going with members of the review team all year long. As a result, when the inevitable key role needs a successor, new position needs to be created, or high performer wants a promotion – you’ll already be ready. It’s all about getting the right people into the right places, to generate the right outcomes.

Have successful talent reviews with WorkTango

We hope this article equips you to run a successful and fair talent review process at your company. And if you want to learn more about running a successful talent review, let’s talk.

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