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Posts Tagged ‘talent review’

Secrets of a successful talent review – part 2

Posted 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 is potential.  Now with performance, it’s well understood by most managers and executives, and we can place some measures around performance, to make it easier to pick the appropriate performance rating for an employee.

With potential, it’s so much harder.  We often get asked, what is this thing called potential?  And what does it mean?  Potential for what?  So we’ve tried to invest more time in educating managers and executives about our definition of potential and what it means.

In the talent review, we quickly found that some managers really get the idea of potential and how it can be applied to their business.  They understand that they have to build and grow the next generation of leaders.  They understand that most of the time it’s better to build and grow internally; and that only some of the time it’s better to buy talent externally — and really great leaders have the ability to distinguish between these two situations.

On the other hand, some managers were less solid in their understanding of potential and how to apply it to their organisations.  A high performer is not necessarily top talent, unless they also have high potential.  We saw a few cases where the employee’s performance was being rewarded, rather than focusing on the high performance and high potential employees, who have the potential to go one level up or even two levels up.

Now we’re thinking about what to do.  We don’t think quotas of top talent are the right way to go:  the “right” number of top talent depends solely on the requirements of the business.  In growth economies you need a solid bench of front-line and middle managers, with a good portion that have potential to grow to higher levels and lead the business into the future.  In mature economies, you need less of the accelerated pool, but you still need enough top talent to sustain the business.

We are tossing around ideas about getting much more specific and detailed in our measurement of talent.  At present we use questionnaire that is applied equally to individual contributors, front-line managers, directors, vice presidents and above.  It gives us a really good first cut of the population, but we need to take it to the next level.  We call this next level “second filter.”

What might this second filter be?  What would be involved?  Well it comes down to two parts:  defining what is necessary for success at the next levels (I like to call this “plus one” and “plus two”); and then putting in place measurement instruments that uncover a high potential employee’s individual fit with the success definition.

Our ideas fall into a number of different initiatives.  Some areas of the business use assessment centres successfully.  Here a group of high potential employees is brought together for a day or two.  They are intensively tested and assessed.  The results are analysed and fed back to the employees, to help them craft their personal development plan.

We’ve also looked at detailed behavioural interviews (similar to that proposed by Bradford Smart in Topgrading.)  Here, we’d have two consultants interview high potential employees, to gather information about their personal capability and motivation, compared to the success model.  The interview process also involves detailed one-hour reference check interviews, with two or more referees, to get independent validation of the high potential employee’s skills, capability and potential to grow.  The output of the interview processed is viewed from an organisation level, but also fed back to the employee, with development recommendations, so they can craft their personal development plan.

Another option is to use psychometric instruments like Hogan HPI.  This tends to give some view of the employee’s true potential, but we need to match this information with the employee’s motivation to achieve and their motivation to gain power and influence, to get the full picture.

So really, an ideal approach would be a blend of these initiatives.  It would give us concrete reliable information that is predictive of success:  we would know that certain characteristics lead to promotions and sustained high performance over time.

If you have other ideas about potential and how to measure true potential, leave a comment for me.

Posted in leadership, performance, succession planning, talent review, top talent | Tagged: , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

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.

Posted in performance, succession planning, talent review, top talent | Tagged: , , , | 6 Comments »

Is the bell tolling for the bell curve?

Posted by Ken Klaus on February 14, 2009


In an entry I posted last year titled, Taking the number out of the equation: Performance evaluations without performance ratings, I extolled the virtues of eliminating the performance rating.  Well actually what I said was “I am willing to accept that assigning a rating value is an easy and (mostly) objective way of evaluating worker performance.  But I can see no need to ever share the rating assessment with the worker (me) – because the rating is not meant for me, it’s just a tool for my manager.”  Assuming, as I did, that the HR department was closely following my posts, no doubt with great enthusiasm, I anticipated my proposal would be implemented that very same week.  Alas, I am still waiting.  What’s more, in a cruel twist of irony or possibly just well deserved Karma, I was recently asked to manage an internal performance review process we’re conducting within the development organization.  I’m still trying to work out the horrors I commited in a past life to have earned this privilege, but never mind – that’s not really what I wanted to write about anyway.  Getting back to the previous post, in the sentence immediately preceding the one I quoted above, I said “I think the whole bell curve model is a pile of horse manure – but that’s a topic for another day.”  Happily, that day has arrived.


Over the past year I’ve been contemplating how companies facilitate their talent review meeting.  Central to the talent review process is a box-chart analytic, generally in a 3×3 configuration, which most in the industry simply refer to as the nine-box.  For the uninitiated, here’s an example:

Nine-box Analytic

What I like, scratch that, what I love about the nine-box model is the multi-dimensional feedback it provides; helping customers not just to see what’s happening in their organization, but what they need to do to better align their talent management strategy with their business strategy.  The nine-box discussion makes the talent review meeting a true business driver and not just another dead end discussion.  Talent review meetings help companies assess worker engagement, risk of loss, organizational diversity, candidates for succession, and development gaps and they provide a starting point for addressing these challenges as well.  By comparison the bell curve analytic just feels outdated and sadly monochromatic.


In the global battle to attract and retain top talent it may turn out that the people you need to succeed are already working at your company; but if you can’t discover, motivate, challenge, develop, promote and compensate them, the battle may already be lost.  Talent reviews are one way for companies to identify, develop and reward both their best performers and their high potentials; but they also help to reveal the underlying reasons for poor performance –  workers who are in the wrong role, who need additional training, who are being poorly managed or under compensated – as well as those who simply need to be managed out of the organization.  The one dimensional feedback provided in the bell curve will never help to surface these critical path issues.  The nine-box, by contrast, offers a multi-dimensional perspective of the organization that can serve as the anchor for the talent review meeting and the cornerstone of a holistic talent management strategy.


I’d love to hear what you think about the bell curve, the nine-box, talent review meetings, or any of the other talent management challenges facing your organization.  In the mean time I’m off to lead this internal performance review and hopefully earn a little good Karma in the process.  Wish me luck!


Posted in analytics, Innovation, talent review | Tagged: , , | 9 Comments »

Must Everything Change in a Down Economy?

Posted by Marcie Van Houten on January 9, 2009

It’s hard to miss that we’re in a down economy.  But some how it feels as if it was sprung on me.  As a Talent Management product strategist, I’ve been blissfully thinking about TM applications and their uses from a more ‘ideal’ point of view.  Large multinational companies with unlimited growth opportunities doing everything they can to hire, retain, and develop their talent.

Now that the Big R is staring me in the face, must I also rethink my product strategy?  Let’s take Talent Reviews for example.  I’ve spoken with many companies that are condueconomic-downturncting Talent Reviews to ensure they are properly engaging their talent.  And my partner in crime, Ken, fell in love while discovering the same.

Well, that’s all great, but in a down economy, do companies continue to conduct Talent Reviews?  And if so, is it with the same purpose in mind?  I believe the answers should be 1) “yes, they very much should” and 2) “yes, plus some”.

When resources are tight and opportunities are limited, it’s even more important to know that you are spending your human resoure $$ wisely.  And while I’m certainly not meaning to project this on anyone, Talent Reviews can enable organizations to focus on the right talent and also identify the talent that is not as necessary.  Now I know this is a touchy topic so please do not blast me, but it is a reality.  I’d much rather see organizations thoughtfully assess their talent and make the best decisions as I believe healthy companies lead to a healthy economy which then leads to healthy hiring.  Talent Reviews can help in this by allowing an organization to comparatively assess their employees, look at the talent in lagging business units, identify new opportunities for those with transferable skills, and yes, also identify those that are least able to contribute to the company’s bottom line in a tough economy.  (Hmmm, is this an argument for generalists?)

My conclusion is that Talent Management applications are very relevant in an up economy, and possibly even more relevant in a down economy.  They allow organizations to make thoughtful decisions vs. to react in a knee jerk fashion.  And as a generalist and a TM product strategist, that actually makes me feel pretty good.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Bangers & mash, gooseberry fool and talent review – one magical week in London

Posted by Ken Klaus on December 13, 2008


It was my first full day in London.  I left the hotel around 8:00, expecting I would stop for a quick English breakfast before losing myself in the wonders of a brand new city (did I mention this was my first trip to the UK?); but the clear blue sky and bright sunshine blanketing Gloucester Road instantly made me rethink my plans.  First a strong cup of coffee: Venti, white, filtered (i.e. a large drip coffee with plenty of cream, thank you very much!) – made with love at the Starbucks across the road from the Millennium Bailey’s (a fabulous Victorian hotel in North Kensington).  With caffeine in hand I strolled a few blocks north and entered Hyde Park.  The air was cold and crisp and the treetops glowed in the bright morning light.  It was like a beautiful illustration from a favorite childhood storybook and just like the young boys and girls that inhabit such stories, I was instantly smitten, with the park, the city, the whole of this magical Kingdom (with apologies to Mr. Mouse).  I absolutely, positively, unreservedly fell in love with London.  The kind of love where you abandon reason and forget that in the real world there are bills to pay and employers who actually expect you to show up for work!  Thus, inevitably, as with so many of the great Bard’s plays, the story came too quickly to an end and the lovers, only newly acquainted, had to part.  I’ll give you a moment to feel my sense of loss, as poor Juliet must have done when she believed Romeo was dead and took up his dagger to join him.  Sigh.


Well that’s probably more drama than we need in one post and since I was in fact there on business, I suspect my manager might appreciate a few thoughts related to the work I was actually there to complete.  So, last week I was in London and Birmingham to chat with our customers about their talent management strategy and more specifically on how they are using talent review meetings to measure, motivate and manage their workforce.  Though the talent review process in general varied widely across geographies, industries, organizations, and business units; I found that the customers who saw the greatest return on their investment (and believe me you have to invest in the talent review process if you want to see the benefits) had some interesting things in common.


First, and perhaps most important was executive sponsorship and participation.  This was not simply support for the idea of talent reviews; in almost all cases c-level executives were actively involved in defining the purpose and outcomes for the talent review meetings as well as actively participating in one or more reviews.


Next, each organization had a set of clearly defined goals and outcomes for the meeting.  Without exception the companies who saw the greatest benefits from their talent review meetings were those who had a clear set of goals laid out before the meeting and an actionable set of outcomes at the end of the meeting.  Participants knew in advance why they were meeting (performance calibration, risk assessment, succession planning, etc.), what they had to do before they arrived, and, more importantly, what they had to do after the meeting was finished.  Kim Lamoureux over at Bersin & Associates had some great things to say on this subject in her post Succession Management – Making the Talent Review Work and the conversations I had with our customers certainly matchup with her findings.


Almost without exception the talent review process was owned and managed by HR.  The customers I spoke with all viewed the HR department as a critical partner that could not be left out of the talent review process.  Recruiting, retention, compensation, and employee development are all driven from HR, which means many of the actionable outcomes of the talent review meeting will need the support of the HR department.  Not surprisingly, most of the customers I spoke with told me the entire talent review process was owned and driven from within the HR department, in some cases by a dedicated Talent Management team. 


Calibrating performance and potential scores is only the beginning.  Most organizations focus on performance and potential calibration as the starting point of their talent review process.  But the talent review meeting can be leveraged for so much more: succession and career planning, creating talent pools for key roles and positions within the organization, mitigating risk of loss, developing diverse organizations and working teams, managing compensation plans and much, much more.  The companies who saw the greatest benefit from their talent review process were those who moved beyond performance calibration toward total talent management. 


Talent reviews are for everyone.  Many companies first implement talent reviews for their c-level executives, but most never get beyond the senior levels of their organization.  By contrast, most of the customers I spoke with had either already implemented organization wide talent reviews or were planning to do so in the immediate future.  Remember, the goal of the talent review meeting is to identify key talent and help them reach their full potential, which means every worker in your organization should have the opportunity to participate in your talent review process.


Before I wrap up, I want to offer my sincere thanks to all of the customers who participated in the feedback sessions we held in Birmingham as well as those who gave up part of their day to meet with us in our London office.  You are true pioneers in this arena and we wish you much success.  I also want to thank the kind and friendly souls who taught me how to enjoy a proper pint of British ale and for introducing me to gooseberry fool and bangers and mash.  I already miss you more than I can say.  Cheers!


Posted in Career Development, hr, performance | Tagged: | 8 Comments »

Performance Calibration – Good or Bad?

Posted by Marcie Van Houten on November 22, 2008

bellcurveI’ll admit that I’ve been going along for awhile now believing that performance calibration is a good thing.  What could be bad about coming together as a management team, discussing your employees’ performance and using these conversations and comparisons to help calibrate the final performance ratings?  So I was surprised today when a co-worker referred to performance calibration as being dated and old-school and assumed, but was dismayed that companies were still dong it.  Enough so that I stopped the conversation to dig in deeper.

Well, it turns out her mental image of performance calibration was completely different than mine.  Whew, thank goodness.  But I think this difference warrants further investigation.  She associated performance calibrations with the exercise of having managers take their initial performance ratings they’ve assigned their employees and then forcing them into a bell curve assignment – or calibrating them to the curve.  This forced ranking would then likely be used to identify the bottom 10% and well, you know what happens next.  So this performance calibration to the bell curve had a very negative connotation to her, and, in my opinion, rightly so.

Performance calibration is more accurately seen today as an exercise by which an organization comes together to discuss employees’ performance ratings to ensure a consistent and fair assessment has been made based on past performance.  It’s an opportunity for managers to start the conversation about their employees with the next step to be to conduct talent calibrations where the future performance, or potential, of employees is discussed.  Talent calibration… now that’s a whole other post.

Performance calibration is good, but we should be aware that there is still some perception out there that it’s about ranking to a bell curve.  And while good, it’s not the whole story and we shouldn’t stop there.  There’s talent calibration and even talent reviews to conduct. 

But for now, good prevails over evil and all is again right in the world.  And as always, there’s the opportunity to do better.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | 7 Comments »