5 Steps for Creating Meaningful Talent Reviews


Tim ToterhiIFP HR Expert

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Talent reviews, when done correctly, can provide employees with a great amount of value, but it can be challenging for businesses to move away from a stagnated and detrimental process. Here’s how you can turn things around.

Article 5 Minutes
5 Steps for Creating Meaningful Talent Reviews

In many organizations talent reviews are little more than a paper shuffle. HR spends an enormous amount of time persuading leaders to place employees in boxes and then facilitates heated debates about the relative performance and potential of each individual. 

The process has two primary goals:

  1. Identify key talent with the greatest likelihood of making a valued-added contribution to the organization and
  2. Decide how to transform that potential benefit into reality.

On the surface both goals seem logical and worthy of attention. The trouble is, companies often fail at the first and barely attempt the second. The lackluster effort results in a neatly crafted talent review and succession planning binder that languishes on the bookshelf until the following year’s meeting. To avoid proliferating this fruitless paper chase, consider incorporating these five actions into your talent review program:

1. Stop pretending you can predict potential

Performance review scores and competency assessments might be debated, but there’s usually fact-based results and behavioral indicators that back up a manager’s determination. So even if an employee initially disagrees with or is disappointed by the evaluation, he or she can ultimately accept the rating and work toward improvement.

With potential on the other hand, the debate is never settled. Left to their own devices even savvy leaders default to squishy language and anecdotal evidence when attempting to rate an employee’s potential. Even when guided by a consulting firm’s methodology, the term quickly slides into the subjective, casting doubt on its validity. How can a manager tell someone with a straight face that they have limited career aspiration or no room to grow? Engagement, which is also occasionally used as input to a potential rating, offers a circular argument. If employees are viewed or even indirectly treated as though they have no ambition or potential why would their engagement be high?

Part of the reason organizations are reluctant to share their talent review assessments with employees is that they have no confidence in their validity. If companies want to use something other than performance trends as a rationale for investing in certain employees, they must first get potential ratings right.

2. Clarify what is ‘expected from’ and ‘offered to’ employees

Assuming a company is confident in their talent review scoring system, they should honor their employee value proposition by providing transparent communication to both those deemed as HiPos and those who did not make the cut: 

Key talent (HiPos) will want to know:

  • Will my career growth be expedited?
  • Will I be provided with additional resources (coaching, classes, mentors, etc.)?
  • Does this advance other opportunities for me such as promotions, international assignments, and high-profile projects?
  • What can I expect in terms of visibility with leadership?
  • And by the way, (gulp)…what does the company expect of me now… and what happens if I can’t deliver?
  • How do I stay on the list and continue to grow?

Non-key talent (everyone else) may want to know:

  • How do I up my game and get in the HiPo group?
  • Are there resources to help me do so or am I on my own?
  • Can I stay in the non-key talent pool indefinitely?
  • What’s the company’s 'failure' tolerance?
  • Will I be branded with the non-key moniker forever or is the assessment honestly and objectively refreshed each year?

3. Take action on 'implied' promises

Organizations will get points for transparency, but the kudos will evaporate quickly if people leaders aren’t enabled to follow through on the answers provided. This requires a strong company culture, well-designed HR practices, and supportive managers. For example, leaders can verbally support talent movement and HR can build a career framework/ladders program, but if managers thrive in a culture that allows them to horde talent, all will be lost. To get talent management right you have to do more than make it appealing for the employee and the organization, you must give props to managers who grease the wheels. 

4. Visibly reward talent developers

Companies need to formalize and encourage the internal practice of a phenomenon that occurs naturally in the wider talent market. If you watch workers move between organizations within an industry you’ll notice that the pattern of travel is not random. Yes, employees join companies and leave managers, but the reverse is also true. Many times employees are wooed away by prior managers.

Great leaders have gravity, the kind that entices people to follow them. Imagine the employee brand, engagement, and performance-based culture an organization could create if it actively encouraged managers to be talent developers. Leveraging this unspoken dynamic of, 'if you want to get somewhere at (insert company), work for that guy/gal' would dramatically reduce turnover, sparking savings in staffing, training, and production. 

5. Obtain proof of concept

Organizations are usually skittish when it comes to comprehensive change, especially if it involves upping the level of candor. In larger organizations, HR can turn this challenge into an opportunity by volunteering to pilot the new process. Human Resources leaders can adopt these ideals and, after conducting a transparent talent review, follow up with these actions to capitalize on the value created:

  • Help employees craft meaningful individual development plans (IDP) that address a variety of goals such as: I want to move up, I want to broaden or enhance my current skillset, I want to move laterally, etc.
  • Align IDPs to real work and coach employees using a deliberate practice model that sparks measureable improvement.
  • Answer tough questions such as: How do I get promoted? Is it 'too late' to take a lateral move? How am I viewed by leadership? What support is available to me?
  • Track progress and IDP completions, noting the win for the employee, the company, and the manager. Align to long-term succession planning actions where appropriate.
  • Reward managers for making good people-based decisions

If talent reviews are to offer actual value they must be valid, transparent, and believable. After all, when an external recruiter calls with an offer, it’s real. There’s no smoke filled room. No nine box nonsense. That’s what internal talent managers are really up against. Approach an employee with vague language and some half-hearted, mysterious explanation of how their 'potential' was rated and all you’ll get is a goodbye.

Tim Toterhi

Tim Toterhi is not your usual HR guy. He’s passionate about slashing bureaucracy and rethinking old thinking. He is a TEDx speaker, ICF certified coach, PMP, and the author of several books including The Introvert's Guide to Job Hunting and the HR Guide to Getting and Crushing Your Dream Job. Tim has over 20 years of management experience in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. He’s been quoted in publications such as Fast Company, Forbes, and the HuffPost as well as profiled in the book, Magnificent Leadership.


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