Article: How effective are your Talent Conversations?

Performance Management

How effective are your Talent Conversations?

Effective talent conversations are crucial for maintaining the strength of your talent pipeline
How effective are your Talent Conversations?

Managers need to be prepared to have four types of talent conversations, each focusing on a different key message


Think of the last conversation you had as a manager with your team member about her/his performance or development.

Did s/he walk out of that conversation feeling energized, clear on where s/he stands and what steps s/he need to take to grow and develop? Or, did s/he walk out of that conversation feeling confused, demotivated, and unsure about her/his future? More often than not, we hear stories about what is going wrong than going right.

Part of the reason is that we often miss certain nuances while having ‘talent conversations’.

As People Leaders and/or an L&D Professionals, it is crucial for the strength of your talent pipeline that these conversations are effective.

A talent conversation is where development becomes real, and when done well, produces behavior that positively affects others, has a real impact on business performance, and helps accelerate the development of your people. It builds a relationship that allows managers to influence others toward improved performance, development and positive outcomes. Talent conversations can happen at any time, but one of the most critical moments for doing them right is during your organization’s regular performance review process.

The first step is to understand who you are engaging with in a talent conversation. Managers need to be prepared to have four types of talent conversations, each focusing on a different key message.

The Top Talent Conversation

The message: future investment. Individuals who clearly meet or exceed expectations and deliver superior results are top talent. These are the individuals who are seen as the future leaders in the organization. During the conversation with top talent, you should:

  • Recognize the person’s high performance level and perceptions of his leadership abilities and potential.
  • Focus on how to provide him with the skills and experiences needed for future roles.
  • Discuss future aspirations, goals and desired development.
  • Find out what motivates him and what you and the organization can do to ensure that he stays with the organization.

The Solid Performer Conversation

The message: maintaining or building value. Solid performers are typically individual contributors who are valued by the organization, but could take on more responsibility. During this conversation you should:

  • Recognize the person’s solid performance level and accomplishments.
  • Convey that she is appreciated and well placed, with potential to grow in her current position.
  • Focus on how the person can improve in her current position, staying aware that new opportunities may arise in the next one or two years.
  • Learn how you can best engage and retain this individual.

The Potential Performer Conversation 

The message: short-term success. Potential performers are individuals who may not have had enough time in their role to show significant results, but are expected to bring a lot to the role they are in. During this talent conversation, the focus is on ensuring a successful transition by:

  • Sharing your perceptions that the person has high leadership potential.
  • Identifying any performance concerns or expected challenges.
  • Focus on the steps that she needs to take over the next three to six months, identify how you could provide support, and discuss how to remove or mitigate any barriers to success.

The Underperformer Conversation

The message: improve performance. Underperformers are people who are not meeting expectations. The talent conversation should remain focused on the here and now, rather than future options, new tasks or additional responsibilities. During the conversation with an underperformer you should:

  • Clearly identify concerns about performance and potential – be clear about why his performance needs to be improved.
  • Focus on performance issues before addressing concerns about potential.
  • Concentrate on actionable next steps required for the individual to be successful in his role for the next three to six months.

Of course, preparing for and having a talent conversation are two different things. Remember: a talent conversation is not done to someone but with someone. To guide the discussion, it helps to follow six steps:

1. Clarify the goal. What is the purpose of the conversation? What exactly does each of us want to accomplish?

2. Explore the issues. Assessing strengths, vulnerabilities, development needs and performance enhancement. Identifying motivation and career aspirations.

3. Identify the options. Generate ideas and opportunities for learning and improvement.

4. Set expectations. What do we want to do first? Next? What are the obstacles?

5. Motivate. What support is needed? Are you sure the goals are meaningful?

6. Identify the plan. How will we know you are on target? How will we track outcomes?

A lot of what is considered talent management happens in meetings and behind closed doors. Where it often succeeds or fails is in the personal interactions managers have with their talent. This is especially true during uncertain, volatile times when you need engaged employees, and employees need good reasons to be engaged.

So, are you ready for the next Talent Conversation?

Disclaimer: This is a contributed post. The statements, opinions and data contained are solely those of the individual authors and contributors and not of People Matters and the editor(s).

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Topics: Performance Management, Employee Relations

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