A Primer on Unlocking Greater Talent Reviews

Tanya Dutta
Published on 
Combining her psychology education with her research experience, Tanya has the powers to derive deep insights from data.
Welcome to part 1 of our series on talent reviews. In this article, we tell you what talent reviews are, who conducts them, and how they are typically run in most organizations. We also explore some common pitfalls you can watch out for and close this primer with best practices for talent reviews in 2024. This primer is meant to introduce you to the concept of talent reviews.

You can check out part 2 (How to use the 9-box for talent reviews) and part 3 (How to conduct effective and efficient talent reviews) to unlock the most value from your talent reviews.

Why talent reviews?

Is your organization’s future in good hands? 

This question has caused many leaders to stay up at night, worrying about the caliber of the next generation to whom they are handing over their reigns – will they do justice to the role?

While the mention of succession planning might bring to mind HBO’s blockbuster of a show on the theme, the practice has existed since time immemorial - from choosing a suitable heir for heading a kingdom to selecting one of three siblings to head a family-run media conglomerate (no prizes for guessing the reference here). However, today, we want to talk about talent reviews - a practice related to succession planning.

Talent review is the process of evaluating your team members across the organization based on performance and future potential – it is not only integral to succession planning, but it also plays a crucial role in enabling a high-performance culture in your organization.

In the 2023 Gartner Board of Directors Talent Survey, only 51 percent of surveyed board directors said their company has a written plan for the current CEO's succession.

Despite this impact, not all organizations run talent reviews regularly. I know, shocking! On delving into this, we found that there could be many reasons for the same – there is a lack of standardization, different company cultures, and values that may not prioritize this process, or simply not knowing where to start.

Either way, we’ve got you back with this one. We put together the latest research and best practices on talent reviews to help you conduct effective and efficient talent reviews in 2024. Keep your eyes pealed for all parts of our series on talent reviews!

What is a talent review?

A talent review is the process of assessing people based on their performance and potential. Don’t mix them up with performance reviews, as a talent review helps you achieve three things:

  • Identify the high and low performers
  • Develop a strong leadership bench strength
  • Fill talent gaps and optimize performance

Different companies used different tools or methods to achieve these. For example, General Electric uses the nine-cell matrix to differentiate its talent pool. The Predictive Index, on the other hand, sends each leader in their organization a spreadsheet with criteria and the names of each employee.

What we want to highlight here is that almost all approaches are optimal as long as they achieve the three objectives mentioned earlier. But wait, to whom do we turn to actually execute this process? Let’s have a look.

Who should be responsible for conducting talent reviews?

Firstly, your “who” will depend on your company size. The baseline of every talent review process is to understand every individual’s work and initiatives thoroughly. That requires a direct line of sight into every member of the organization.

Let’s say you’re a budding organization with a team of around 50. In such a scenario, the CHRO and the C-suite would be more than enough to handle the talent review process for each employee. However, as the organization grows, your talent reviews would require insights from department heads and senior managers, considering that they would be the ones actually getting face-time with the employees.

Through all this, the HR leaders of the organization must ensure that the talent review process takes place effectively and efficiently. They must meet each reviewer to discuss each individual being assessed. So, to summarize, your talent reviews must include every senior member in direct contact with your organization's employees, with support from HR leaders.

Okay, so we know now who should be conducting these reviews, but how do we get things off the ground?

How do you go about conducting a talent review?

Once you have established the criteria for your reviews, it is time to get into the actual steps of your talent review process.

  • Individual assessment: To begin conducting your talent review, share a template with reviewers that contains the details of the individuals to be evaluated, and ask them to fill how they fare against each established criterion, what the reviewer thinks of their work so far, and what they need to do going forward. In addition to the template, they must also determine each individual’s position w.r.t performance and potential using a rating scale such as the 9-box grid.
  • Analyzing and identifying needs and future potential: Once the reviewers know the individuals' positions in the first phase, the next step is to analyze what’s going right and what’s going wrong, along with each individual's needs. At this stage, the reviewers must also determine whether the individual is ready to take up leadership roles in the future. For example, you might find that some people may benefit from more stretch projects or assignments that require them to expand their skills to maximize performance and potential. You might also luck out by identifying individuals who are already demonstrating all the behaviors to successfully take on leadership roles, who may not have been on your radar at all.
  • Preparing and communicating a development plan: Now that the needs and potential of each employee have been identified, the next step is to create a formal plan with steps and assignments that your team members can take to reach greater heights. You should also prepare retention or improvement plans for each individual in case they are performing poorly. To communicate the plans effectively, hold 1:1s with each individual and discuss what went right, what could’ve been done differently, and how to do things going forward. Follow up regularly to realign, refocus, and rework if needed.
Real Talk
Real-world insights from experts on the other side of the Ken

How can an ambitious HR leader get leadership buy-in to introduce a process like talent reviews if no such process currently exists in the organization?

There is no magic pill.

HR needs to speak the language of the business. When you go in with the softer elements, it’s harder to sell. You have to establish a clear business case with a tangible ROI for the top line or bottom line. Sometimes, we make it all a very cumbersome and tiring process; it’s always good to start small.

Segmenting your approach to pitching for a process such as talent reviews is important - it’s not something you can achieve overnight - it is something that becomes part of your talent management DNA over time.

Establish a sense of shared responsibility - HR cannot do this by themselves. You have to sell it as a medium to your leaders and managers – this is something that will help make your jobs easier in the long term.

Like with all change management initiatives, identifying some early champions - which could be a manager or a particular business unit– helps prove the results there and then, which you can use as support to make the case for running talent reviews every year, as a starting point.

Abhay Singh
Head of Marketing, Mesh

Where can your talent reviews fall apart?

The quality of your talent review process may be negatively impacted if managers or leaders are incompetent. For example, suppose a team member has been unable to complete their assignments on time or showcase their potential due to a lack of diligence on the manager’s part, the talent review will automatically suffer.

However, that’s not the only potential problem you may encounter. Show any bias, and your talent reviews shall no longer be pious. As a leader, you must constantly reflect and check for biases in judgment to avoid falling for traps. Some of the most common biases you can watch out for include:

  • Expedience bias: Even if something seems obvious, it does not mean it's true. This bias plays out when you index on one metric or source of information. You can overcome this bias by prioritizing less apparent signs of success/failure and focusing on forming a complete picture by talking to other stakeholders.
  • Recency bias: It is easier to remember how a team member did last week than to remember how they performed throughout the performance cycle. To overcome this, keep track of your KRs and IDPs and measure your team member’s progress against those to get a more accurate picture.
  • Similar-to-me bias: If someone has a personality or work ethic like yours, it does not mean they are a star in your company by default. Keeping that in mind, try to find common ground with all your team members to review them fairly and objectively.

We as humans are not infallible to biases, but making sure you’re aware of these biases is a good place to start. Being mindful of these barriers can help ensure that your talent review process has the highest chance of succeeding and producing great results. Read on to find out how to ensure your talent review process is up-to-date with 2024’s talent practices.

Best practices for talent reviews in 2024  

  • Keep it agile: Every organization is dynamic, facing challenges and changes throughout the year. In that vein, ensuring that your process and subsequent development plans are agile and can adapt to future changes is essential. You should also set up a frequent rhythm for talent reviews to avoid discrepancies and inaccuracies.
  • Avoid boxing an employee’s potential: The ability to define your team member’s potential is awesome, but not when it fails to accurately represent their abilities. To that end, make sure that your talent reviews go beyond the scope of your KRs and capture overall impact, including strengths and progress in achieving organizational and personal goals.
  • Make your talent reviews more inclusive:

To ensure your talent reviews are inclusive, it is a good idea to go back to the data: looking at how the ratings are distributed across different demographic groups is a good place to start to check for any biases that might be at play. It is also recommended to make the talent review process as collaborative as possible, since collaborating with other managers and leaders can help make reviews more comprehensive, and minimize biases and inaccuracies. You can also include the individual in the process, co-creating the development plans and follow-ups with them.

  • Make technology your ally: Using tech software that can track an employee’s work and performance over time will ensure that the data is accurate, accessible, and action-ready across different reviewers and managers. An appropriate performance management tool (such as yours truly)can help automate and remove any hurdles in the overall process of your talent reviews at every level.

You can check out the full episode on decoding talent reviews with Emmeline Kim, episode 1 of our podcast "How Do They Do It?" here.

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About the Author
Tanya Dutta
People Science Associate
With a BA and MA in psychology - she is an organizational behavior nerd through and through. She previously worked in consumer insights, where she refined the ability to derive insights from data. Combining her passion for psychology and data, she found a sweet intersection in the People Science team at Mesh, helping organizations optimize their talent strategies while keeping people at heart. Outside work, she enjoys ticking off items from her IMDB and Yelp wishlist.
About the Author
Tanya Dutta
People Science Associate
With a BA and MA in psychology - she is an organizational behavior nerd through and through. She previously worked in consumer insights, where she refined the ability to derive insights from data. Combining her passion for psychology and data, she found a sweet intersection in the People Science team at Mesh, helping organizations optimize their talent strategies while keeping people at heart. Outside work, she enjoys ticking off items from her IMDB and Yelp wishlist.

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