6 Steps to Great Talent Reviews

It’s great news that talent reviews have become almost universal in larger organizations, avoiding the fads that have overtaken HR processes like performance management. The fact that most companies do them, however, doesn’t mean that they’re done well. We often see companies with overly complex processes, vague definitions of potential, ill-equipped HR leaders, no follow-up and other ills that undercut the effectiveness of this potentially powerful process.

Our experience conducting hundreds of talent reviews and building the process for complex global companies shows us that six factors create a successful talent review:

1. A crisp, company-specific definition of potential

In “Your Potential Model is Wrong,” we found significant issues with the two most popular potential models. In both models, items that the authors claim predict potential actually predict performance; there’s no independent scientific evidence that either model is valid and neither model takes into account how an individual fits with a company’s specific needs.

Rather than using a generic potential model, we suggest you create a company-specific definition of potential that includes the following elements:

  • A track record of sustained high performance across fundamentally different challenges. Past performance in one job tells us little about future performance in a different job. But, sustained high performance across different, highly challenging scenarios indicates high cognitive capability (IQ) and provides insights about resilience, ambition and other critical personality factors that predict potential.
  • Fit with the 3 or 4 capabilities your strategy requires. In “Companies Change but Leaders Don’t,” we describe how an individual’s fit with their company’s future needs helps predict their potential. Use the Executive Fit Matrix in that article to determine the 3 to 4 capabilities that will differentiate your highest performing leader in the next 3 to 5 years. Ignore “good citizen” behaviors and focus on defining outcomes that your top talent will deliver. Read “Life After the Competency Model” to learn now to identify and present to these differentiators.

2. A light process

You should be able to conduct a talent review with two sheets of paper – a 9-box grid (or your favorite tool) and a succession chart. A talent review is an operational process to keep your Talent Production Line moving forward, so any material that doesn’t directly assist in that process isn’t needed. This includes things like employee profile development and maintenance that we consider to be among a company’s most wasteful activities. Likewise, summary charts, statistics and other superfluous material don’t improve your ability to predict a leader’s potential or develop it.

3. Manager accountability

Managers should be able to describe their team members’ strengths, weaknesses, behaviors and next development steps without the crutch of employee profiles. This is not a high bar – it’s a fundamental expectation of a manager.

In a talent review, they should also be able to ask smart questions about their peers’ direct reports to ensure that their peers can justify their ratings. This doesn’t require that they know their peers’ talent (although that helps), but that they ask how a person compares to others rated similarly, what the next development steps are for that individual and how committed they are to their rating. Questions like, “Are you willing to stake your corporate reputation on this individual?” are a great way to test their true knowledge and commitment.

4. Savvy facilitation

An HR leader should facilitate talent review conversations until the organization is experienced and capable enough for line leaders to do this on their own. Before the talent review, an HR leader should meet with every leader who will present talent in the meeting to review their assessments and screen for any controversial choices. In the talent review, savvy facilitation means:

  • Fact-based discussions: The only facts discussed are those most relevant to accurately place and invest in an individual. Ad hominin comments are quickly shut down, as are irrelevant comments about universities attended, marital status, etc.
  • An independent view from HR: Whenever possible, HR should have an independent view about the talent being discussed and actively participate in the discussion. HR is the neutral player in the organization, interested only in the best overall outcome. If they do not have that point of view their role in the meeting is reduced to simply facilitating – a task that could be given to anyone with facilitation skills.

5. Development decisions for all high potentials

In your talent review session, you will have thoroughly discussed each high potential’s strengths, weaknesses and development needs. You will have calibrated that the group agrees with those findings. You will have the right people in the room to make smart, aligned decisions about that high potential’s next development steps. This means that a key output of a high-quality talent review is to identify the primary development action for each high potential. When you make this decision in the meeting, you have the benefit of not only having holistic input from your peers, but also their alignment and support of that decision.

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6. Flawless follow-up

It’s sometimes the simplest steps that trip companies in their talent review process. Talent reviews mean nothing without follow-up on the decisions made. We frequently see companies that hold fact-based, disciplined talent reviews and then fail to take the actions they committed to take. Flawless follow-up is easier than it sounds and includes:

  • HR records every decision made: If it’s decided that the company should move Suzie to Kuala Lumpur next year, this action should be recorded along with the person responsible for that action and date due.
  • HR follows up monthly: Once a month, the HR leader who facilitated the process or owns the outcome should check with the leader for each action item to see if that action has occurred. They should offer to help move the process forward the leader isn’t moving quickly enough.
  • Integrate reporting into regular group meetings: Most functions or regions have a regular meeting cycle and talent review follow-up should be integrated into that. The status of talent review actions should be tracked and reported just like any key financial or operational metric.

There’s no company process more important than accurately selecting and investing in your future leaders. Poor choices place your business at risk, waste investments and derail careers. A well-run process takes standards, process and discipline, but is completely achievable by companies of every size. Start by committing your company to flawlessly execute the six steps guaranteed to produce great results.

This article was originally published on the website of The Talent Strategy Group.

Marc Effron

Marc Effron helps companies build better talent, faster. 

Marc helps the world's largest and most successful companies improve the quality and depth of their talent.  His consulting work focuses on creating effective talent strategies and detailed talent management process designs, all using the One Page Talent Management approach – Simplicity, Accountability and Transparency.  

With deep consulting and corporate talent management experience, Marc provides a highly practical, broadly informed perspective to his clients. Prior to forming The Talent Strategy Group, Marc served as Vice President, Global Talent Management for Avon Products, and started and led the Global Leadership Consulting Practice at consultancy Hewitt Associates.  He was also Senior Vice President, Leadership Development for Bank of America and served as a political consultant and a staff assistant to a United States Congressman.

Marc co-authored the Harvard Business Press best-selling book One Page Talent Management: Eliminating Complexity, Adding Value.  He also co-authored Leading the Way, co-edited Human Resources in the 21st Century and has written chapters in eight management and leadership books. He is a regular columnist for human resources publications worldwide.

Marc is the founder and publisher of Talent Quarterly magazine, which raises the quality of dialogue about talent issues with serious, provocative and practical guidance from the world’s top management thought leaders.

Marc is a sought after speaker on talent management and leadership topics by both corporations and conferences.  He is widely quoted on talent issues in the business media and has been recognized as one of the Top 100 Influencers in HR.  He earned a M.B.A. from the Yale University School of Management and a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Washington.

Marc founded and leads the New Talent Management Network, a non-profit HR networking and research organization that is now the world's largest talent management organization with more than 3,000 members.

Contact Marc at marc@talentstrategygroup.com 
For more information, visit www.talentstrategygroup.com