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Secrets of a successful talent review

Posted by Justin Field on December 22, 2009

Well, folks, we’ve just been through a talent review here.  You might think the process is fairly well understood and everything should just go smoothly, but of course, real life is not that smooth, and nor is a talent review.

One of the problems we faced was around the calibration of performance ratings.  Specifically, employees with a performance rating of 3 don’t get on the shortlist of top talent; those with 4 or 5, have a chance, but naturally we’re looking for high potentials among that population.

In the talent review, we discovered that some groups had been very strict with their performance ratings, and that other groups had been lenient.  For example, when sales quota was a key measurement of performance, some groups gave quota achievement of 100% a performance rating of 3; other groups gave quota achievement of 90% a performance rating of 4.  Result:  those cheap (easily won) 4’s distorted the shortlist of talent for that group; the hard won 4’s in other groups came closer to our true definition of top talent.

So what’s the secret of success?  I’ve always said that effective performance management is the true foundation of effective talent management.  You have to have a good grip on who the top performers are before you can start segmenting that group down to find the high potentials.  And in a large organisation, you’d better be sure that the measurement of performance is the same across groups, otherwise it destroys the credibility of the talent review.

My key learning for 2010 is two-fold:

  • We have to publish crystal-clear guidelines for groups regarding how to score performance based on key measurements.  We need a consistent approach across all groups.
  • After the majority of performance ratings are in the performance management system, we need a comprehensive calibration exercise, especially for those groups that will later do a talent review.  If we don’t make some effort to calibrate, the talent review itself becomes an exercise in performance calibration, when we really want the talent review to focus on high potential top talent.

Leave a comment with your views on calibrating performance and the impact on talent review.

6 Responses to “Secrets of a successful talent review”

  1. I think you’re absolutely right, the trick is how to do it. Even if you have a company wide standard that 100% goals met = ‘Company Maker’ so it’s consistent, everyone has different goals and different criteria that states whether a goal is met or not. But I agree that the first step is having crystal clear criteria that everyone (theoretically) follows. Perfect calibration may not be possible but you can aim for it.

  2. Meg Bear said

    Thanks for keeping us grounded over here Justin. I completely agree with you that even something as awesome as a talent review is imperfect and flawed. I think that you are right about garbage in/garbage out, but I would guess that over time, as business gains experience, this becomes easier. Business leaders will become more aware of the importance of calibration, guidelines and big picture thinking.

    One other thing I’d suggest is that we all remember that talent management systems are inherently flawed, as they are executed by humans who are themselves flawed. HR groups cannot fix that completely and at some point market forces come into the mix causing those people who are being held back by their leader(s) to vote with their feet.

    All of that gives even more need for a consistent process that can be monitored, executed and refined over time. Which is really the point of Talent Management isn’t it?

    Great stuff.

  3. […] Article Link: https://talentedapps.wordpress.com/2009/12/22/secrets-of-a-successful-talent-review/ […]

  4. […] by Justin Field on January 14, 2010 In my last post, I wrote about performance calibration as being one of the secrets of success for talent reviews.  But performance isn’t the only dimension of top talent.  The other dimension we look at […]

  5. Marcie said

    Great validation Justin that these truly are two unique activities – Performance Calibration and Talent Reviews. And also a great use case for them to be held at separate times.

  6. I just wrote a book on this topic of “TALENT”. Titled: “You don’t need Talent to Succeed, but Everything else Counts”. Would love to hear back from you.

    Available on Amazon:


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