Thursday, October 28, 2010

10 Dysfunctional Characters at a Talent Review Meeting

A talent review meeting is an important part of any leadership development and succession planning process. It’s when a leadership team gets together to discuss the performance and potential of their organization’s employees. They often use some variation of a 9-box performance and potential matrix.

I usually have the managers fill out their grids independently (plot each of their employees on the 9-box), consolidate the results, and have them review the results together.

It’s a great way to efficiently and effectively calibrate the expectations and perceptions of any leadership team. A consensus top talent (high potential) list usually emerges, as well the identification of problem performers and everything in between.

It’s a deceptively simple and straightforward process. However, what can make it messy are the different dysfunctional characters (or behaviors) that can show up at the meeting.

Here’s my list, based on my experience from facilitating hundreds of talent review meetings (I’ve alternated genders).

1. The used car saleswoman.
The used car saleswoman shows up prepared to “sell” every one of her employees. She’s got a long list of overly positive, exaggerated claims, complete with 2-3 examples for each one. Any fault is masqueraded as a strength. After a while, the rest of the team just gets worn down and starts buying everything she has to sell.

2. The defense attorney.
There’s a time when the rest of the team gets to share their perceptions about another manager’s employee. If it’s anything less than 100% positive, the defense attorney will leap from his seat and shout “I object”! Each possible fault is torn apart and disputed, just like Johnny Cochran and a glove that doesn’t fit.

3. Your Grandmother
To your grandmother, everybody’s just wonderful, and nobody could possibly have any weaknesses. Constructive feedback or conflict is considered rude, and everybody is encouraged to play nice. At least she brings cookies to the meeting.

4. The toe tapper.
The toe tapper has better things to do than to sit around and talk about damn people. He’ll tap his foot like Thumper the rabbit, roll his eyes, and interrupt any discussion that threatens to prolong the process.

5. The wimp.
The wimp couldn’t take a stand if her life depended on it. She’ll have an employee in a 1A box – and drop them down to a 3C based on an innocent comment - and then back up based on the next. All feedback from the wimp is couched with disclaimers (Well, gee; I really don’t know them very well, but…”).

6. The invisible man.
The invisible man sits there and doesn’t say a thing – unless called on. Once his turn is over, he disappears again.

7. The mean girl.
The mean girl doesn’t just offer constructive feedback – she goes for the jugular. Comments about other manager’s employees are meant to ruin careers, not develop. She’ll spread gossip and lie to make her point.

8. The storyteller.
The storyteller seems to have at least one – sometimes more – long-winded yarn about EVERY employee. He’s the good old boy that knows everything about everybody, and loves to share, no matter if it’s relevant or not.

9. The process engineer.
The process engineer loves to take a simple and easy process and make it more complicated. Instead of 9 boxes, she’ll suggest it be broken down further, into say, 27 boxes, or 81. She wants to attempt to quantify the scales, and suggests that everyone comes to the next meeting prepared with “data”, not just subjective opinions. She gets so wrapped up in trying to make the process perfect she can't see the forest from the trees.

10. Jessica Simpson.
Jessica just can’t seem to understand the difference between performance and potential, and keeps getting the two mixed up. He struggles to follow where names have been placed and keeps yelling “bingo” whenever he has three employees in a row.

How about you? Have you met these or other characters at a talent review meeting (or any meeting)?


Scott Eblin said...

Hey Dan -

I was loving this, agreeing and nodding my head with recognition of every type you mentioned, until I got to number 10 - Jessica Simpson. Can we not let this poor woman be? Can we not agree that, based on the Cowboys record, Tony Romo was probably better off WITH her? OK, I've had my fun. Great post.

Cheers -


Patrick said...

Hey Dan,
"the different dysfunctional characters (or behaviors) that can show up at the meeting" you summarized is so interesting. I like them.

seanwhitlock said...

Thanks for the post- you really nailed the characters on the head. It’s hard to imagine a meeting without some of these people…it just wouldn’t feel complete.

Dan McCarthy said...

Scott -
sorry, it was either her or Paris Hilton. Good point about Romo. Thanks.

Patrick -

Sean -
They do make it interesting.

Unknown said...

Bravo Dan- having sat in on these year after year- you nailed it- If only you could hand out the "Role" name tags prior to the meeting, it would go faster, and be far more efficient!

Dan Zaccagnino said...

This list is a perfect description of a typical meeting. Those characteristics you mentioned are a disruption to the overall task that is trying to be accomplished. Is there any way to eliminate some of them or should we just accept it for what it is and deal with it?

Phil said...

I love it, I laughed at a few as I caught myself pin pointing different situations and people I've ran into that I could match up with a few numbers on here. It would be nice if we could point these people out at the beginning of the meeting when everyone first sits down. If I may add, number 11, Einstein, he can't use constructive criticism nor feedback because he has the answers to everything and could possibly be the smartest person on board or better yet alive. Great post I love it.


Dan McCarthy said...

Debbie -
Good idea, it would be nice to know ahead of time. Thanks.

Dan -
sure, a lot of problems can be eliminated with preparation before the meeting, making sure everybody understands, buys in, is prepared, etc.... Ground rules can help too. Thanks.

Phil -
Thanks, yes, lets add Albert, I know him well.

Unknown said...

Great list. It's funny to think about each of my different experiences where some of these settings took place. My personal favorite is the toe tapper.

Unknown said...

Dear Dan,
I think an effective way to mitigate the impact of the dysfunctional characters is identified in your introduction. Having team members complete their performance and potential matrix prior to the meeting helps get everyone's head in the game and focused on the task at hand. I do think that the key to avoiding characters like the "used car saleswoman" and the "defense attorney" is to make sure people come to the meeting prepared with evidence/examples to back their conclusions on employee performance and potential. Managers should be encouraged to contribute thoughts on individuals who are not their direct reports as well. In this age of individual contributors and cross functional teams it is often another leader who might be in the best position to assess another managers direct report.
Best regards,

Ann sabo said...

Although I've seen the various "types" described here I find that when one or more of them exist, the problem is often in the organization itself. We use a program called "Corporate Coach" and find it extremely helpful in assisting team members to focus on their personal development. It also helps when reviewing other staff members as it is thorough and unbiased. This coaching program coomes from
and a sample is on their web site.
Coaching, mentoring, and training are the most important tools a manager has in their toolkit but without structure and guidance most managers are woefully unprepared for the task.

Dan McCarthy said...


Ellen -
Thanks, sounds like you've done a few of these. Good advice.

Ann -
Thanks for the tip. Sounds like it could be usefull.

Casey said...

I love the your descriptions and those added by the others.

I would add "Mr. Too Important". The guy who spends all his time on his Blackberry because he is multi-tasking. This is the same guy who follows up with you 25 times because he didn't pay attention or take notes and now he doesn't know his assigned role/tasks.


Dan McCarthy said...

Casey -
Ah yes, know him well. Thanks!

Phillip said...

Like this a lot. I will use it! Like the descriptive list of characters. Believe many of us experience an evolving or crossing over depoending where the organization is culturally, financially, etc.

Dan McCarthy said...

Phillip -
Thanks - glad you can use it.