By Tim Toterhi
Many companies have taken great pains over the last few years to install robust performance and talent management systems in an attempt to better identify, reward, develop, and ultimately retain their top talent. While some gains have been made with regard to high-potential (HiPo) identification and compensation, most struggle to provide impactful development programs that help anchor employees to the organization. This failing not only increases HiPo flight risk, it can send a message to core employees that despite what’s said in the mission statement, development is not a priority.
While some of the heartache can be attributed to simply automating lackluster paper-based processes, more often the issue has to do with a misguided talent management philosophy that lacks transparency and fails to align purpose and process.
Talent Reviews—A Broken Process
Consider the typical talent review process. After managers throughout the organization spend considerable time creating a straw man 9-box distribution, senior executives gather to discuss those few deemed high potential. While some conversation is substantive, in many cases, the focus is on negotiating performance and potential scores in hope of placing employees in the correct portion of the 9-Box (download PDF graphic below). These heated debates tend to center around the “usual suspects,” with leaders either focusing solely on their reports or allowing hearsay and anecdotal evidence to dominate the conversation.
Clearly, the process has its flaws. First, because talent reviews take time, rarely does the event extend deep enough into the organization to get a meaningful view of the true talent pipeline. Second, employees often are reviewed in silos with little thought given to cross-department moves. Finally, the amount of time (typically two to five minutes) spent on each employee is hardly enough to make intelligent decisions about a person’s career.
The Importance of Transparency
Organizations may never arrive at the perfect way to review employee potential. The forces of time will always work against the labor-intensive activity. The unfortunate part, however, isn’t the inefficiency of the talent review, it’s that too often leaders fail to capitalize on what actually works by shrouding the process in secrecy.
After all the effort, in many companies, leaders refuse to share the results of the talent review with their staff. Employees either are told nothing or provided with generic commentary such as “You are a highly thought-of employee.” These statements beg the question: So what?
Without details, how can an individual assemble a concrete development plan? How can an organization increase its bench strength and produce legitimate “Ready Now” successors? And how can an HR organization avoid co-sponsoring a repetitive talent review process that fails to address key people issues?
Organizations that have been effective in the space have taken some calculated risks. That means embracing transparency and stepping up to some of the words embedded in the standard-issue mission statement. One way to demonstrate this is by having each manager openly share with direct reports their placement in the 9-box.
Concerns With Transparent Talent Reviews
Thanks in part to coaching from skittish HR professionals, many business leaders visibly flinch at the mere mention of opening up the process. The following provides retorts to the most common concerns.
Benefits of a Transparent Talent Review
The upside of transparency outweighs the risk. Consider the following benefits that come from opening up the process.
Comfortable First Steps
For many companies, this approach would mean a considerable culture change. While you can’t “sneak up on change,” there are a few things that can be done in advance of a full-scale effort to help you decide if transparency would work in your organization. Try the following first steps.
Coaching Conversation is Key
Whether you elect to revitalize your talent review process or keep it largely the same, the one non-negotiatable should be the post-meeting coaching discussion. The test is quite simple. If you change a person’s placement in the 9-box and that action does not alter the context of the conversation you have with the employee afterward, than you have effectively wasted your time.
Tim Toterhi is an executive coach and OD and change management specialist. He’s worked extensively with teams in the Americas, Europe, and Asia on talent management strategies. He can be reached at email@example.com.