Talent reviews: are they still relevant & how to conduct an effective one

Talent reviews: are they still relevant & how to conduct an effective one

Talent reviews can play a critical role in driving business goals through effective talent management, and there are a number of steps HR leaders and organisations should follow in order to facilitate successful talent reviews, writes Alec Bashinsky

Over the course of the past six months, I’m increasingly hearing more conversations centred around talent reviews, with debates about their value as well as how to run an effective talent review process.

My experiences conducting hundreds of talent reviews and building the process for both local and global companies have taught me that there are a few critical factors to create a successful talent review.

A clear, company-specific definition of potential
There are lots of conversations around “competency frameworks” rather than capability ones and many organisations get caught up in the complexity of defining what is potential for them.

Instead of using one of the many global generic potential models that exist (I must admit I’m not a fan of the 9-box process for a number of reasons), I’d suggest you create your own company-specific definition of potential that includes the following elements:

  • A track record of sustained high performance/experiences across fundamentally different challenges. Past performance in one job tells us little about future performance in a different job, although many still use this as a judgment lever. I’ve seen many high potentials fail with this approach.
  • However, sustained high performance/experiences across different, highly challenging scenarios indicates high cognitive capability and provides insights about resilience, ambition and other critical factors that predict potential.
  • Think about how your definition of potential also fits with the four or five capabilities your business strategy requires.

Keep it simple
You should be able to conduct a talent review with two documents:

  1. An individual summary of each person including their roles, past experiences, strengths etc, and
  2. A succession plan that takes in current and future roles for the next five years.

Remember to look at what future roles may exist in next five years as this will determine the skill/capability requirements your company will need moving forward. Don’t clog your talent reviews with unnecessary data as this will just confuse the conversation.

Talent ownership by leaders
During a talent review, it is critical that leaders are able to articulate their high potentials’  strengths, weaknesses, behaviours and next development steps. Make sure your leaders are engaged in this process and that they have done their homework in preparation for the talent review.

Quality conversation outcomes
HR leaders should facilitate talent review conversations to ensure consistency across the organisation. This may sound basic but before the talent review the HR leader should meet with every business leader who will be presenting their high potential talent in the meeting to review their assessments and screen for any controversial choices. In the talent review the HR leader needs to focus on the following:

  • Keep the conversations fact-based: The only facts discussed are those most relevant to accurately place and invest in an individual. Anything else including irrelevant stories, challenges based on levels etcetera must be carefully shut down, with priority focus given to the facts.
  • An independent view from HR: Whenever possible, HR business unit leaders should have an independent view about the talent being discussed and actively participate in the discussion. HR should always be the neutral player in the organisation, interested only in the best overall outcome.

Development outcomes for 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, as this is critical if the high potential is to have support for their development opportunities/roles. You should have the right people in the room to make smart, aligned decisions about that high potential’s next development steps.

Therefore, 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.

HR responsibilities for organisation’s talent reviews
Finally, talent reviews mean nothing without follow-up on the decisions made. I have often seen companies hold fact-based, disciplined talent reviews – and then fail to take the actions they committed to follow through on. Follow-up is easier than it sounds and includes:

  • HR records every decision made: If it’s decided that the company should move an employee to Singapore next year, for example, 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 business units 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.
  • Consolidated high potential summary by CHRO: This step is vital so the CHRO can have regular conversations with the CEO and executive team members around the bench-strength of the organisation and what areas need to be invested in. This may also include understanding what capability gaps exist in a company’s succession plan and whether these may need to be addressed by external recruitment.

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