Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Why You Should Conduct Talent Review Meetings and 10 Best Practices for Doing Them

I’ll bet a lot of executives and managers reading this post would enthusiastically agree with the declaration “Employees are our greatest asset”.

How about you? How successful would your team or organization be without talented, high performing people?  At the end of the day, in today’s hyper-competitive global economy, talent just might be the only remaining sustainable competitive advantage.

However, if you want to find out what’s really valued by an organization’s leadership, just take a peek at the agendas for their business review meetings, board meetings, operations reviews, quarterly shareholder meetings, sales meetings, or any other kind of management meeting that permeates a busy executives’ calendar. Count up how much time is spent reviewing the earning per share, revenue, profit, sales quotas, manufacturing capacity, inventory, marketing strategy, and other topics. Any mention of a review of talent? 
Probably not, and if there is, it’s only there because it’s a once-a-year HR mandated review.

Actions speak louder than words. If you’re serious about leveraging that all-important asset (your talent), then it’s time to get into a regular rhythm of talent reviews.

A talent review is simply a discussion of your team or organizations people. It answers the questions:
- Who are our highest and lowest performers?
- Who has potential to move into a larger role?
- Who are our potential successors for key leadership positions?
- What should we be doing to improve our talent?
- Where are we vulnerable, and what should we do to minimize our risk?

Even if you’re already conducting talent review meetings, there may be some ways to improve their effectiveness and efficiency. Here are 10 best practices, gleamed from my own experience as well as tips from other talent management experts and successful leaders:

1. Enlist the assistance of an experienced, unbiased facilitator. If you've never ran your own talent review meeting, get some help from a trusted expert. It could be someone from HR, a consultant, or even a trusted experienced peer. After a few meetings, you and your team will get the hang of it and can fly solo. However, there still may be times when you’d want someone to run the meeting so you can sit back and be a full participant without getting bogged down by running the process.

2. It’s YOUR meeting – show up! Getting assistance is fine, but just remember, you and your team are responsible for managing your team’s talent, not HR or anyone else. I've heard of managers that insist they shouldn't participate in their own talent review meetings, because  they don’t want to bias the results and don’t think their team will be completely candid if they are present. Nonsense! The team needs to hear your opinions and your expectations, and if your team is afraid to speak up in your presence, then you've got a bigger problem that needs to be addressed.
I've seen other executives use the time to check emails and get caught up on their reading. Again, actions speak louder than words. Don’t just show up – be 100% present.

3. Don’t over-complicate it. Use a performance and potential matrix (9-box) – a simple, yet effective way to have a discussion about your people. This one sheet of paper is all any manager should have in front of them – not a stack of employee profiles, organizations charts, development plans, and other forms. That stuff should all be available electronically if needed, but it rarely is.
Also, don’t try to over-complicate the 9-box tool. Coming up with labels for each quadrant or numbering systems rarely adds value to the discussion and more often derails it.

4. Make sure you and your team are prepared. Review the purpose and process, as well as ground rules for the talent review prior to the meeting, and give your team at least a week to prepare.

5. Allow plenty of time. A typical in-depth talent review can take about 4 hours. If you try to do it in multiple meetings, you’ll waste too much time in the transitions from one meeting to the next. Then, after a once-per-year (minimal) in-depth review, progress and updates can be handled as a part of your regular meetings.

6. Hold your leadership team accountable. I once supported a business unit President that took his talent management very seriously. When some poor manager showed up unprepared, didn't follow instructions, or didn't follow through on action items, it was NOT a pretty sight. However, they caught on quickly to the importance of managing talent and most learned to be world-class talent managers themselves (or they didn't last long).

7. Don’t just assess your talent. I've seen and heard of a lot of organizations that just assess their talent, but never get around to discussing how to develop their talent. It doesn't have to take long. As a team, just decide on the one thing that would help the employee grow stronger. If you don’t have time to discuss development for every employee, then prioritize, i.e., just do your high potentials. Also, if someone is seen as having senior leadership potential, check to see if they are on anyone’s succession plan – or if they should be.

8. Take notes. This is another reason to have a facilitator assist you – someone to keep track of changes to the 9-box and agreed upon development actions. Each manager should also be taking notes on their own employees. These notes are then used to help hold the team accountable for implementation, which is where talent management usually comes up short.

9. Transparency. While a good ground rule to follow is “what’s said in Vegas stays in Vegas”, that doesn't mean that nothing should be shared with employees. Managers should be having follow-up career and development discussions with their employees to provide feedback and create robust development plans.

10. Be a role model. Sure, holding others accountable is important. However, when a manager treats development as something that’s good for everyone else but doesn't model development and coaching themselves, they lose credibility. They miss the opportunity to improve themselves, their leadership team, and teach valuable skills that will cascade down through the organization.

Follow these 10 tips to get the maximum ROI from your talent review meetings. And if your HR partner isn't supporting you in this process, ask why not? Remember, you’re accountable for your organization’s bottom line and you’ll need nothing but the best talent to get those results.


Sarah T said...

Hi Dan, This is a very helpful post as we are likely going to start this process formally for the first time this year. We have about 60 global employees. You mention both senior management and managers - who should be involved in the meeting? Senior staff (Pres, COO, Adviser, VP Ops and Dir HR), Senior staff plus line managers of each functional area - when that functional area is "discussed." Finally - who rates the senior staff?

Dan McCarthy said...

Sarah -
Glad it was timely and helpful.
The answer is always "it depends". Generally, talent reviews are conducted by a layer of management discussing the level below them. From what you described, I would suggest the senior staff conduct the review, with a focus on identifying employees with senior staff potential. But that's just one option.
Who rates the senior staff? Perhaps the CEO and president, with maybe the COO and head of HR. sometimes the Board gets involved if it's a public company.
I'd be happy to discuss with you over the phone if you end me an email with your contact info.

Antoinette Oglethorpe said...

Good post Dan. The other thing that leaders must do is talk to employees about their aspirations. I've seen a number of succession and talent plans fall over because managers think they know what is right for the employee and don't actually ask!


Dan McCarthy said...

Antoinette -
Thanks, good point, I agree 100%.