Rather than beating about the bush, leaders have to be able to give real and relevant feedback using the framework for talent conversations, provided here, along with a handy checklist.

Your organisation has invested a significant amount of time and dollars in developing high-potential talent, only to be shocked when they suddenly leave the organisation for another opportunity. Sound familiar?

As an HR leader, you’re intensely involved in talent management processes around individual and organisational capabilities, development and career success.

Buoyed partly by the rise of today’s dominant workforce who isn’t afraid to express dissatisfaction with just one annual assessment, companies such as Accenture, General Electric, and Maybank have ditched the traditional annual performance review in favour of more frequent, ongoing, two-way check-ins of performance; and you are probably considering a more evolved system of performance management as well.

If your company is experimenting with new ways to evaluate talent, it is crucial for you to ensure managers at all levels are able to give feedback and hold talent conversations well. At its core, a talent conversation is a manager-employee discussion, where talent development becomes real, where commitment and engagement can be built, and where managers have the opportunity to accelerate development and results.

Most importantly, a talent conversation is not done to someone, but with someone.

And, when done correctly, talented employees will know where they stand in the organisation now and their possibilities for the future – thus, increasing their levels of engagement and commitment.


The four types of talent conversations

Leaders who want to successfully manage the talent in their organisations need to develop their skills on the four types of talent conversations, as listed in Figure 1, which clarifies exactly who they are engaging and which situations work best for such talent.

The top talent

Top talent comprises employees who frequently exceed performance expectations, demonstrate exceptional managerial skills and exemplify most of the competencies required for executing the organisation’s strategy. Think of your employees who learn new skills the quickest and who are always ready for more responsibility. For such employees, a talent conversation must:

• Recognise their high performance level. • Discuss future aspirations and goals and desired development. • Find out what motivates the individual and what you can do to ensure you retain the person.

The solid performer

The backbone of an organisation, solid performers are consistent result-getters who have proven technical or professional skills, as well as demonstrated some managerial potential. Typically these are individual contributors who have the potential to take on more responsibility within a business line. When dealing with such employees:

• Convey that the individual is appreciated, with potential to grow in their position. • Focus on how they can stay aware of opportunities in the next few years. • Find ways to recognise the person’s solid performance level and accomplishments.

The potential performer

Those who may have been recently hired or promoted or been placed in their role within the past six to 12 months are typically potential performers. Evidently, they may not have had enough time in their role to show significant results, yet are expected to deliver on the high expectations placed on them, before they are ready for additional responsibility. In such talent conversations:

• Share your and the organisation’s perceptions of their leadership potential. • Ensure there is a getting-started plan in place and discuss how to execute it. • Focus on the steps to be taken over the next three to six months to ensure their success. • Identify how to provide support through an investment of your time.

The under-performer

As the name suggests, these individuals are unable to meet their performance expectations, and require dedicated focus on their job duties. Needless to say, they should not be given any additional responsibilities. When speaking to such employees:

• Be clear about why the individual’s performance needs to be improved to sustain their role. • Concentrate on the actionable next steps required for the individual over the next three to six months.


Investing in your team’s career

At this point it may be helpful to think about someone with whom you need to have a talent conversation in the near future. Keep this person in mind as you go about preparing for the talent conversation using the ACS model – assess, support, and challenge.


In preparing for a talent conversation, the first step for you as a manager is to begin pulling together all of the data and information you have about the person you will be talking with. A good way to accomplish both of these goals is by creating a talent assessment summary. Use the questions provided in Figure 2 to gain a clear picture of the current reality and the future development for the person you are working with.


When challenging the employee, leaders should focus on the next steps in their performance and development. These next steps should be based on the assessment you just completed as well as on what you hear during the actual talent conversation. Challenging next steps that take people out of their comfort zones will increase the likelihood of learning and change, with some ideas provided in Figure 2.


A key element of support is finding out what motivates the individual to take on the developmental and performance actions that you determine to be the next steps. Reflect on what needs to happen to keep the person motivated and inspired to achieve his or her goals, using the pointers in Figure 2.

A last bit of preparation leaders can do before entering a talent conversation is to reflect on themselves and their ability and effectiveness at developing others. When in doubt, do not hesitate to seek feedback from others.

From a business standpoint, talent conversations are a low-cost, high-return scenario for leveraging human capital assets and creating a culture of talent sustainability.

From a HR standpoint they provide an opportunity for relationship building and engaging talent. So do them right, and do them well – your employees and organisation will thank you for it.

Reference / Talent conversations: What they are, why they're crucial, and how to do them right, by Roland Smith and Michael Campbell. The Center for Creative Leadership.

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