The 5 Critical Outcomes of Talent Review

Most talent management professionals are familiar with the process of Talent Review, which is generally defined as an enterprise-wide evaluation of the organization’s leadership talent. Typically facilitated by HR, the process involves collecting and “rolling up” a series of talent assessments (made by line managers) into a high-level meeting with the executive team, where decisions are made (ideally) about how to grow and develop the company’s top leadership talent.

The data collection process itself isn’t complicated; a specific template or model is agreed upon (often times a simple 9-box framework), and each department rates or labels their leadership talent accordingly. When all the data has been collected, it is generally presented to the executive team at a session called Talent Review, where senior leaders discuss individuals and try to reach consensus on various development options.

It all sounds simple enough, and organizations that conduct Talent Reviews certainly mean well; they’re trying to stimulate the right discussions at the right levels about leadership development.   However, the actual outcomes from the Talent Review process often leave senior leaders disappointed and frustrated. In short, the outcomes don’t match the effort… a lot of work goes into the process, but the actual “now what” next steps are often non-existent, vague or poorly executed.

The fact is, collecting and presenting the data is the easy part of Talent Review. The hard part is actually arriving at decisions about leadership talent and executing those decisions. In my experience, there are five outcomes that talent management professionals must ensure if they want the Talent Review process to have the desired impact.

1. Departmental Alignment. Talent Review typically starts at a department or functional level. In separate (but similar) processes, the Marketing department assesses their talent; the Finance group does the same with their leadership, and so on. Here’s the first potential breakdown of the process… Talent Review facilitators must ensure these discussions are taken seriously, that the senior departmental team is aligned on what they’re rolling up to the company-wide discussion. Too often, facilitators brief the functional leadership teams and “leave them to it” without close supervision. Facilitators must make sure each and every functional Talent Review process is rigorously executed, and that the department leaders are aligned on their individual talent recommendations. If the functional leadership team isn’t on the same page on what we’re going to do with Bob or Susan, it’s hard to make confident recommendations at the company-wide Talent Review meeting. Besides, not all leaders will be discussed at the broader Talent Review session; getting it right at the functional level ensures that development decisions for all leaders in the department will be carried out.

2. The Talent Review Meeting. When every function has collected and prepared their talent presentations, it’s time for the executive team Talent Review meeting. Here’s the second opportunity to ensure a solid outcome… making sure each senior leader (e.g., the CFO, CMO, CHRO) is fully prepared to present their leadership talent and deliver robust recommendations to the full group. I’ve seen the entire process break down because senior leaders didn’t take their role seriously; facilitators must meet with them in advance and ensure they’re ready to make a strong presentation. If the Talent Review meeting itself isn’t well executed, the CEO will walk away with a dim view of the entire process. Don’t let senior leaders “wing it” – put in the prep time necessary to ensure they’re ready to make this meeting worthwhile.

3. Individual Development Decisions. Ideally, the broader Talent Review meeting should produce specific development recommendations for each leader discussed. Typically, these fall into four categories: 1) promotions, 2) stretch assignments, 3) movement, and 4) development suggestions. Facilitators must ensure that a clear plan is discussed and approved (consensus is optional) for all leaders who are reviewed at the meeting. In my experience, I often found it necessary to insist on a clear plan of action before moving on to a discussion of the next individual leader, no matter how long it took. This is the most egregious outcome error of all; discussing a leader but failing to “lock down” what’s next for them. The whole point of Talent Review is to generate specific development plans for each leader. We might agree to stretch them with new responsibilities, assign them a mentor or coach, recommend a class or leadership program, or move them to a new role. Whatever it is, get specific and document the decision; don’t leave the meeting without a clear action plan for each leader

4. Executing the Decisions. Here comes the really hard part for Talent Review facilitators: Ensuring that the development decisions reached in the meeting are carried out. This takes a lot of following up with functional leaders, collaboration with HR business partners, coordination with outside service providers, and a coordinated movement plan at the top of the house. Talent management professionals cannot afford to think of themselves as mere stewards of the Talent Review process – they must own the final outcome for each leader discussion, as well. In other words, they must stay with the process, and make the plans agreed to in the meeting happen.

5. Macro Data and Trends. Once the Talent Review meeting is over, it’s tempting to think that the entire process is over for another cycle or year. It’s not. Talent managers have just been handed a unique view of the overall leadership talent in the organization, and this wealth of information should produce a variety of observations, conclusions, and recommendations at a macro level. What does this robust “state of our leadership talent” process reveal about gender, age, diversity and leadership pipelines in the company? Where do we have experience gaps in our leadership role progressions? Where do we have specific recruiting or movement opportunities? What is the outlook for leaders retiring in the next few years? How do all of these trends compare to industry standards? The talent management professional can be an invaluable resource to the senior team, guiding the organization through talent discussions and strategies based on the information just collected. But to earn that right, talent managers have to pull together the data to uncover themes and trends that will spark the right conversations.

Talent Review can (and should) be the key process in your organization’s talent management strategy, but it has to be well executed to be taken seriously by line leaders and the CEO. Focusing on these five outcomes will go a long way toward ensuring that Talent Review is the most trusted and valuable human capital process in the organization.