Episode 1

Decoding Talent Reviews with Emmeline Kim, People Partner Lead at Coda 

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In Episode 1, Abhay Singh chats with Emmeline Kim, People Partner Lead at Coda, focusing on the significance of talent reviews in today's organizations. They dissect the increased emphasis on talent reviews due to evolving constraints and employee expectations. Emmeline sheds light on aligning review objectives with business goals, managing biases, and data preparation. They dive into choosing review models, advocating for diversity and inclusion. Emmeline emphasizes tailoring review frequency, considering business size, and involving diverse levels. The episode explores review outcomes like succession planning and retention, culminating in a vital tip: comprehensively understand your business as a people partner.

About the speakers

Emmeline Dannenbaum
People Partner Lead at Coda
Raised in San Diego, I currently work at Coda in SF, as People Partner Lead, working closely with our leadership team. My career began at Box, with lots of scale, growth, and an IPO, first in recruiting, then as an HRBP. I've also worked at Rippling as their first HRBP

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Abhay Singh:

Hello and welcome to the first episode of how do they do it?

And who better to start it with than Emmeline Kim, who currently is people partner lead at CODA and previously has worked at Rippling and Box, and clearly knows a thing or two about scaling talent in high growth environments.

Thank you and welcome for being my first guest Emmeline. How are you doing?

Emmeline Kim:

Good, good.

Thank you for having me.

I'm excited to talk about this topic.

Abhay Singh:

Typically, what we like to ask all our guests is that tell us one aspect of your life that people won't find on your social profiles and your web presence.

Emmeline Kim:

I think one thing that folks probably wouldn't find is just like how much the kind of exercises and frameworks that I might use in the people world come into my personal life. So my husband also works in the people space. It's also made this a bit easier.

But for example, my husband actually organized a couple's off site for us to tackle some of the big life questions that we've been working through. So we created an agenda that went through the big life things like our finances, where we might want to live, our family, our career, our relationship. And we did.

All these activities that we've done at work tailored to how we'd want to talk through each of these areas is a full agenda that we've, of course, created in a coded doc. But whenever people hear about it, they're always kind of surprised, but also very much not surprised considering just who we are as people in the space that we work into. That's super amazing.

Abhay Singh:

Are we going to see you on Netflix soon?

Emmeline Kim:

That'd be great. I actually do have a number of friends after who've seen the agenda, and they're like, can you organize this workshop for me and my partner, please.

So this might become a side hustle at a certain point, but we shall see.

Abhay Singh:

Yeah, and you're a star at putting together frameworks. So for those of you who don't know that, when I was researching on which of the best experts I can find, right, who can come and give me some tactical tidbits and talent reviews, and I came across this fantastic Coda document and I was blown away that this is entirely automated. I really did not need to do anything.

So I took my shot. I wrote a cold email, old school style, to Emmeline, and she was kind enough to agree, but more on that later.

How's it been at Coda so far? What are you liking most about your work at Coda?

Emmeline Kim:

Oh, yeah, Coda's been truly wondrous. I've been now there for a bit over a year and a half, partnering with all of our leaders and orgs across all of Coda.

It's really been an amazing journey. Coda is a startup around 200 folks, so I have the ability to be able to just constantly work across a lot of different altitudes, partner with all of our different leaders, build rollout programs, and still have a pulse on our folks to get a sense of okay, where is it that I need to lean into the most as a people?

I'd say what I've really been enjoying the most. It's cliche to say, but I do think it's a cliche for a reason. But I of course, have to do a call out for the people. The people that I work with at Coda are truly not only really sharp, but also really thoughtful. And everyone is just so keen on doing whatever it takes to have Coda win. There's this thing I've always told people that I look for whenever I join a company, and it's whether I respect the people beyond whatever their job title or job expertise might happen to be.

So is it okay? Do I like and respect Abhay as Abhay the person and human versus just, you know, marketer or whatever that individual might be doing at the company.

Abhay Singh:

I've tried to find that through my manager, NPS surveys, a bunch of time.

I know, because we were chatting about this before show, right? And before we jump into talent reviews these days, this hybrid model that was thrown upon us, or completely remote models quota has really made it work, right? Because we're seeing a lot of friends from our community, a lot of our clients, they are now pondering over it. Maybe it's hybrid, maybe we need to get it back.

What is the golden tip as to how Coda has made it work?

Emmeline Kim:

I think there are a couple of things that come to mind.

One, we are just incredibly intentional about. We call it rituals, right. But basically how our company operates, which I think is also enabled due to the nature of our product, too. So, for example, basically every code of doc is incredibly interactive, and it's very much a two way street. So even if you are creating some sort of write up to send to someone where you might want to get feedback or make a decision, the way that Coda operates is actually, you can probably see our Head of Product, Lane.He has this wonderful write up around two way write ups, where it's not this ecstatic one way presentation or one way thing that you give people, but it's really something where people can interact within and where you can actually make decisions through versus it just being that one way route.

We have rituals like Dorian Pulse, where it's basically a Q&A, very interactive Q A, where people can put in their questions in a session. People can upvote what they want to have answered first that they might be most curious about. So these are all different rituals of how our company operates, which I think has made it really much easier as a distributed environment to be able to just collaborate and work with each other.

I would still say, though, that you still need to have some sort of in person element to it and being really intentional about that. So the other thing that Coda does is once a year, we do this thing called Codathon, where we bring our entire company together to a mutually inconvenient location. It's a really robust kind of a couple days with different programming to have people engage across the company within their teams, being able to explore the town. And, gosh, the kind of energy that I see after just some of those in person elements like that, I think is absolutely. So there are a number of things that Coda enables us to do more effectively distributed. But I do think being really intentional about what are still the moments in which you can bring people together, I think that's quite important as well.

Abhay Singh:

No, I love it. I think the use of the word deliberate and intentional, that sort of just gives me the right answer to it.

Of course, now, talent reviews. Now, you and I have spoken about it before. The very reason that we chose this topic, and we sort of building a lot of content over it this quarter, is that all of a sudden, the past six months now, we all know what was happening in the economic world. Macroeconomic factors, competitive pressure, cost cuts, looming, recession has arrived or not arrived, I'm not sure. But suddenly, from our community, both paying customers and prospects, we were getting a lot of requests that our ceos are asking us to do a talent review. Or hey, we need to get a talent review together.

I have my hypothesis, but for your experience, what could have possibly happened? There is some force out there that is pushing this, or this is just sheer coincidence.

Emmeline Kim:

Yeah, it's interesting because I think, goodness, for a very long time we've been saying people are our most important asset, right? But I think it's just genuinely becoming more and more real. A couple things I think are in play in particular.

Firstly, the macro environment has gotten tough, right? So it's no longer a time where it's hiring frenzies all around with plenty of capital to spend. Which means companies are getting even more disciplined in not only who they need to hire, but also making sure they're best engaging, retaining and maximizing their best talent. So in a more constrained world, you need to be even more thoughtful about what your people strategy is going to be, and talent reviews are a great mechanism to hold you accountable to having a conversation around this.

Secondly, I think employees as a whole continue to expect more out of companies, especially with the workforce being more and more of the millennial and the Gen Z population in terms of things like, hey, what am I really learning here? Am I feeling engaged and fulfilled? How is this helping my growth? The more thoughtfully we can evaluate and plan for our talent means we can actually then be more proactive and having those specific conversations with our employees that will help provide clarity on all these fronts.

Abhay Singh:

Interesting. Yeah, pretty much the same.

I think the only elephant in the room does remain that, especially for younger startups, a term that was thrown around that maybe they were carrying excess headcount in some scenarios, because, as you rightly said, that what growth was happening? And now all of a sudden companies needed to whoever their best people are, they want to do everything still to be able to retain them. But they were certainly looking at people who have consistently been underperforming. Can they be rotated into different roles, or is there going to be a performance improvement opportunities where they can be brought up to speed? Do you think that does not get spoken about enough? Or that perhaps is not that legitimate a concern?

Emmeline Kim:

It's interesting because I think it forces the issue actually on both fronts. Like best practice that we should always be doing right is we should be very conscious about who our low performers are and what we're doing to really help turn them around or if it's necessary to part ways. But also, we should be really keeping an eye on who our top performers are too.

And are we investing enough?

Are we engaging them?

Are we also maximizing what kind of impact and growth they can have?

So I would actually say that the constraints that we're dealing with has perhaps forced the issue a bit more. So on both fronts. And honestly, as a people partner, whenever I go through a talent review, I am always very conscious about making sure that the time isn't fully spent on who our low performers are and why that is and what we're going to do.

I think it's so important that you need to actually, one may argue you really should be focusing more time on your top performers, right? And thinking about how to maximize them. So I could see that it could be more top of mind just with the constraints of how we're thinking about our lower performers or things like that. But at least in my experience, most leaders know that they really should be thinking about both ends of that spectrum.

Abhay Singh:

That's a very interesting perspective you brought up, right? Because over the past years, across different roles that you've had, you would have seen periods of immense growth where there is no deficiency of capital. Let's go, gung ho.

We have seen a lean patch. We've seen recoveries before running the talent review process. How important is setting the objective that this is why we are doing it? And is there some things that people leaders should definitely be doing that no matter environment or small firm or big firm, you should definitely be doing this.

Emmeline Kim:

Yeah, 100%, I would say taking a slight step back on that. I think it lines up with what I think the key objective of being an HRBP should be. This is like my foremost principle, but I see my role as constantly reconciling the needs of our business with the needs of our people. And talent review is where a lot of that can happen. You obviously want what's best for the individual, but you also want what's best for the business and how you can accelerate both in terms of objectives and the scene that I'll set for my leaders. It's one like sharing that principle, right?

This is not just like a people exercise for the sake of a people exercise or development for the sake of development. This is so we can again, not only engage, grow, and maximize our people's impact, but it's also so we can accelerate the business forward too, right? So I'll often set that scene with our leaders beforehand in terms of how I might frame an exercise like this.

But along with that, at the highest level, I'd say the objective of a talent review is to be very much forward looking, thinking about what your people strategy is going to be moving forward. And most importantly, it really needs to be grounded in the business and where the business is going. Yes, I'd say that at the highest level is what I would make sure that I'm setting the tone on.

Abhay Singh:

I'm super curious about that. Right, because essentially, just to paraphrase you, we're talking about buying before doing any talent process. Ultimately, the business lives with it. Talent works there, their careers grow there.

How have you typically gone about ensuring that my CEO is interested in this, my CFO is interested, then my head of sales, head of marketing,

Emmeline Kim:

They're as much in the room as I am that this exercise that we're doing aligns to what you're trying to drive in your business. Because ultimately, the best strategy, the best tools, the best vcs people are going to make execution happen.

Abhay Singh:

But what are some of the learnings that you've had that our community can use to go and convince their business leaders?

Emmeline Kim:

It's interesting because at Coda, we actually don't have a typically formal talent review season yet. I've been able to do a talent review with my CEO and pretty much like all of my leaders at many different points in time. And when I think about how I was able to do that, gosh. Well, one, I do think it's like how I framed the exercise, which I was able to do through a tool like Coda.

You need to think about how are you going to visualize the data, right. For people to really understand how it works, for people to understand the value, how can you make it really actionable? Which, again, it's not just about capturing what someone's performance, potential successor, potential flight risk. It's not just about capturing that insight.

But okay, what then are the next steps that we're going to be doing? Whether it's you as a manager, whether it's leveraging the leader, whether it's leveraging the CEO, or whether it's leveraging the people partner, what are the actions that are coming out of this? And so I think doing all of this has one just helped people kind of get a sense of like, oh, that is the insight that I would want. Okay, great. I know what to do after this talent review exercise.

I would say the other thing is the more you know the business, the more you can also frame the value of this exercise. If you were to know, like, okay, we're planning on either growing this team or opening a new business unit, or maybe opening a new office or whatever it might be in the business.Or maybe we're going to be changing up what our go to market strategy is going to be in all those situations that are business goals, right? There needs to be a people strategy behind that. So if I knew that my company was going to be either growing these teams or opening up a new business unit, probably what I would add into my talent view table is like, okay, who are the contenders? Who could be the one to help drive this new office opening or to drive this new business unit? What are the things that we can do in the meantime to make sure these individuals are ready for that? Are there any skill sets that we need to particularly coach on for this individual, for them to be ready for that?

So I think, again, all those things and really grounding it in terms of where the business is going and helping the leader kind of see that you understand that. And again, you're not here to just do the people thing, but you're to do that along with the business thing. I think that's something that really helps kind of folks realize what the value of this could be. Always when business leaders hear outcomes in terms of tangible outcomes they're going to see in the business, it's a different swanson.

Abhay Singh:

I'm going to dovetail into a question that we get all the time, but I'm not sure these processes are interlinked. There are separate performance reviews. When the anxiety kicks in in the organization, everyone is anticipating. If your comp cycle is linked to that, maybe increments bonuses, promotions, and that whole talent review piece where at least from an individual perspective, I'm accepting, what's my career path here? What am I going to get there? What is my manager going to give me as development opportunities? How do you see these two processes in terms of the relationship between them?

Emmeline Kim:

So both very important, but I would say, very simply put, performance review, I see more as a backwards looking exercise on what the individual has done, their proof of performance, which can inform things like comp cycles, while as the talent review is very much more forward looking. So who might have that high potential? What are we working on with that individual to maximize their performance or to turn it around? What else can we give them? Whether it's projects or what else do we need to coach them on? That said, I would say the data from your performance reviews can often inform the talent review exercise, too, right? So, for example, my confidence level in someone's high potential is going to be based on whether they were a strong performer in the past. My confidence level in someone's ability to be a manager in the future or being a successor to something is again going to be influenced by what their past performance has been like. Right?

So a lot of data from the performance reviews, which again, is why I think it's so important to do the performance review in a very disciplined and consistent and good way, because this inevitably does feed the talent review process. That said, I will also say a talent review done well can also shed insight on the performance piece too, right?

So if someone's Tad, okay, this person has really high potential, but their performance is like average or subpar. Dig into that, right? Why is it that we're rating their high potential so high when their performance is like this? And oftentimes I've seen it's things like, well, I actually don't think this person's in the right role. I've seen other great skill sets and aptitudes come out, and that might then create another action. Right. Of, okay, let's look for a different role for this person. There's probably a way in which we can leverage this individual even better.

Abhay Singh:

Interesting. From practitioner perspective, right?

When HRBPs are listening to this, they perhaps are running a quarterly feedback cycle or half yearly. Maybe managers are sitting right after that cycle, they give feedback, hey, this worked well. This is where you can improve. And then maybe at a certain periodic, maybe six months, a talent review is also happening. They might be using a nine box or some other framework, and possibly the manager needs to have a development conversation after that as well.

In terms of sequencing, have you seen something working well that space them out by a month, these conversations, or there's really no harm if your managers can do both together, because we typically do see that a performance conversation and a development conversation doesn't go well together in one conversation. But anything that you've seen work well, especially with technology organizations, it's interesting because.

Emmeline Kim:

I actually think where it doesn't go as well is not so much the performance review conversation with the development conversation, but it's probably the comp update too, that might be coming right? Because when that happens, oftentimes, understandably so, people are just very focused on what they got and just distracts, I think, from probably the really good, robust conversation that managers are having around their development or whatnot.

In terms of what I've seen, well, I would actually say what I've seen at Coda is probably the best thing that I've seen in that our performance reviews and our development plans, they aren't tied to any sort of people process. It actually can happen at any point through a recommendation. You know, you should do this at least like twice a year with your schedules, but if you want to do it more frequently, the minimum that you need to do is at least once a year. But if you want to do it more frequently, then you're able to and do it at the moments that make sense for you and the individual. Right. And it should be very much an open conversation of when does it make sense to have a performance review with this individual. I think I've seen it the best when it is fully separated like that.

That said, every company does it differently. I've been at companies where it's a bit more like, okay, performance review, comp update, the talent review actually being done like a couple of weeks afterwards when the data is a bit more fresh in their minds.

So I don't think there's necessarily a wrong way of doing it. I think you just have to be very mindful about what the trade offs are going to be in each scenario and then how you need to frame it to your leaders and to your business for them to understand what our intention is. How do you talk about it with your individuals? What are going to be some of the common questions that they come to? And do we have an answer for all of that too?

Abhay Singh:

What a pertinent insight you have brought up. Right? I see it all the time.

It's, to quote Confucius, a man who chases two rabbits catches none. And we have this one large monolithic event we're doing every six months. And we want feedback, we want development, we want planning, we want comp also done. Promotions also done. And you, I think, rightly pointed out that even for knowledge workers, maybe that one part takes away so much emphasis from the rest of it that they get sort of neglected. Food for thought.

It is a difficult challenge. I wouldn't say that there are organizations that have absolutely cracked it, but it'll be interesting to see sort of how the future progresses. Now, we've spoken a lot about the objective, the philosophy and what to do. Getting into the hard data side of it. You need a model. You have a series of 50 people, startup, you are 10,000 pharma company, 40 offices around the globe. What have you seen work? Well, nine box, is it the go to model now? Is that what we should be using?

Emmeline Kim:

Okay, I'm going to have to say it really depends on your business and your organ. It depends on the size of your company, it depends on, honestly, probably the leaders in the room, your CEO's preference. I have to say, taking a step back, the most important model is one that is tailored to your business and what's going to make sense for them. I would actually say the talent review model that I built in Coda is probably the best that used.

Again, like, if I were to even think back on, Coda does not have a talent review process or a season where the whole company stops and we do this. Right. So I've actually been kind of surprised, whenever I think about it, of how each leader has wanted to do this, even though it's not like a people program we're forcing on them. Again, the reason why it resonates and why I think it is kind of the best model that I've seen used is because it's the type of things that people want to know about in terms of their folks. Right. Nine boxes are great in terms of in the moment, getting a sense of how we're calibrating and what it might all be. But let's be real. After the nine boxes, how often are people really remembering, oh, and they were in box four versus box eight versus two. Right.

What people probably want to get a sense of, okay, again, who are the top performance?

Who are the bottom performers?

What's the flight risk of my most effective folks?

What are the retention levers for these people that we need to be aware of?

What are those actions that I need to do?

What actually do I need to do after this?

And so I've seen this be really effective in that I'm able to make the town review very interactive. It's like one doc, like one living source of truth that I don't have to worry about going static legitimately. I went through, like, half of this exercise for someone's org, like, a couple of weeks ago. We ran out of time and my leader actually slacked me and was like, when are we going to finish that talent review exercise? I was like, oh, this is great. I'd say that it's what I've actually found the most success in, in terms of a talent review exercise I've gone through.

Abhay Singh:

And you've achieved the impossible.

You've created excitement in a business leader about a talent review.

Emmeline Kim:

I know. Well, it's great. I think it's also a testament to our managers and our leaders who care enough about this and see the value of it, so also have to give them credit. We literally have our follow up, I think, tomorrow afternoon. So it's very top of mind for me.

Abhay Singh:

You mentioned one very pertinent sort of matter. Right? It is data, because otherwise there are pros and cons.

A lot of organizations, they do not want to completely rely on a manager judgment. They want to have a little bit of subjectivity. They do want to empower the manager, but not completely, but also have some objectivity. And all of a sudden, the people partner organization, the HRBPs, they are tasked with getting this data in.

Now, you might be running some performance reviews, have some competency assessments, 360s. If you're a very big firm, maybe you ran some simulations or some sort of potential assessments as well. But you need to get that data together because perhaps you're going to get 3 hours with your CFO in six months. And unless we are fully prepared, if the data starts getting questioned, then we're going to lose the plot. Right.

What tips do you have for HRBPs that before they enter that Zoom call or they enter that roundtable where that Talent review talent council meeting is happening, How can they best prepare the data that they have access to, which might be spread out in an HRIS system? Maybe they have some performance engagement, career tools, maybe they have a one on one tool. Maybe there is LMS somewhere sitting. But how do you get that together?

Emmeline Kim:

Before any sort of talent review, I would actually recommend doing a prep meeting with your leader or whoever it is. So even if it's a quick 15 minutes, run through the agenda, run through what the ground rules are going to be for this session, run through what tone we want to set, and then run through actually the data. Right. So run through like, okay, here's what I'm going to be bringing in. Here's where it came from. Do you have any questions on this? Are there questions that you anticipate from your managers or from your other leaders that we should make sure we get ahead of? So I would say first, that's something that I always do. You do some sort of prep meeting, especially the bigger the talent review is, and then going from there in terms of what actual data that you bring in and how you bring all that together.

One, I think it's really important to have calibrated performance data that's grounded in output that's also based on a consistent expectations framework. For example, a rubric. Right? But even if it's not, if there aren't fleshed out rubrics because you might be a startup, haven't built it up yet, there should be still some sort of consistent expectation setting thing, right? Whether it's the expectations you laid out in the 30 day plan for your team, whether it's the job description for the roles that you've been hiring for. So there needs to be some consistent framework that we're able to tether back to. That also should inform that performance data, and ideally the performance data ought to be calibrated across the entire as well. So when we head into the talent review, we know all the data that's in there. It's again been set against that consistent bar.

I would also make sure to have readily available the rationale behind the performance data too. Why did we rate them a certain way? And this can, I think, then be informed by the manager and the peer feedback bringing that in. If you've rolled out levels in your company, I would bring that in again, it helps with the consistency piece of how we're talking about our folks. And I would also make sure you as a people partner have the demographic data handy because this will help you do checks on biases as well, especially after the exercise. So yeah, I know oftentimes all these things live in different places. I remember in previous worlds it was a lot of just like trying to bring together downloading excel sheets, putting it into one visual. Gosh, I feel like I'm just talking about Coda a lot, but it's what I've appreciated about Coda is that I don't have to do that. It's all just kind of one source of truth that I am able to pretty easily pour in. But I'd say those are probably the things that you need to have together. And again, doing the prep meeting is particularly important too.

Abhay Singh:

That's such a simple and but so powerful tip. Just anticipate the risk and get it solved before you even step into that meeting? That's super useful.

You spoke about consistency a lot, right? And it is almost that something you can't do when your talent review is happening. It needs to be happening twelve months and we come up with a lot of issues, right. Manager A has set up stretch goals, so now his team is looking bad because they are already set in stretch, but manager B has set up achievable goals. So now when we're sitting down with that data now that's looking like the team b is performing really well, or manager a is really lenient. They have given, despite all the training, all the enablement gone ahead and given. Let's say you're using rating scales four and five.

How do you work with your business leaders and managers throughout the year to ensure that there is consistency across these definition, these processes throughout the year, so that when we have that data, it's authentic. Right. And it's not that debatable entering those rooms.

Emmeline Kim:

Yeah, I think there are a couple of things that I do is one, I think the most powerful thing an HRBP often is doing is asking all the questions. So you need to dig in, right? You need to dig in like, okay, what are these goals? What do they actually mean? Why are these the goals? How does this actually compare to these other objectives that this other team is doing? I think it's like consistently digging into the why I think helps ensure that we're thinking about things in the right way. Honestly, a lot of this calibration actually happens from the discussion itself too. Right.

And this is why I actually think the prep meeting with the leader is most important, because the leader probably has a pretty good sense of what actually are the complexity of the projects that these different teams are doing. They know the business even better than I do. Right. Like being of that world. So probably during the prep meeting, what I would be doing with the leader is like, if I knew there were dynamics like that happening, those are exactly the things that you should be flagging. Like, hey, some things I've heard from some managers is feeling like the other teams aren't really holding the same bar. What's your take on that? Is there context that's missing, or do you actually think there's something there that we need to make sure we're asking the right prompting questions and holding a consistent bar on in the meeting? I think it's one just accepting that the calibration does help and the kind of discussions do help with helping us understand a little bit more of where the bar is across the company or across the.

And on that, what I've also seen work well is a lot of times, therefore, some leaders actually want to involve all the managers in these sessions too, because it's a bit of a learning for them in terms of like, okay, how are we thinking about what is a complex project right across the organization? How are we thinking about top performance versus just strong performance? So that's another tactic that I've seen done well, and I think the other thing is with each, I do this actually in my 101, but I always do it before any sort of performance review or talent review is you should walk through the unconscious biases with your managers too. So again, you can call out things like that might be a bit like, is that a recency bias? Is that a leniency bias? What is it? And just having that shared language to begin with also helps all of us keep an ear out for it as well, to call out if we're hearing something like that.

Abhay Singh:

Super interesting. For those of you wondering that we keep on referencing to this quota model that ML and had put together, I'm going to append it in the show notes. So we're going to leave you a link on the website as well, just so that you have access. I do think it makes your job at least 30% easier. What do you think? You don't have to do the thinking.

Emmeline Kim:

Yeah, I would definitely say so. I'm very grateful for the load that has taken off of my mental energy.

Abhay Singh:

One last part from a design or a framework perspective, and you briefly touched upon it earlier, most organizations are now very deliberate about how they encourage diversity, equity, inclusion across their processes. They're almost trying to imbibe it. As you rightly said, a number of biases do exist and it's sort of HRBPs or the people team's responsibility to surface them and have the right conversations. At least from some of the sessions that you have ran, experience that you've had. Are you looking at some specific data when it comes to DEI, be it on progression, be it on biases? Any learnings that you have that the community could gain from and think of someone that is doing nothing today, what are some low hanging fruits for them that they can start with?

Emmeline Kim:

Okay, so there are very tactically there are two. And you can do this basically before a talent review as well as after a talent review. But the reason why it's so important to have your demographic data is you should be pulling what the performance rating distribution might be across different groups, what the potential or impact distribution was like. Take a step back, see if there are any trends we're seeing. And again, you need to dig into the why. If we seem to skew a certain way, dig into, okay, who are those individuals? Was there a consistent bar? Look through the notes of what the rationale was. Again, some of this you have to actually read through and see if it was consistently done. But I do think doing that check of pulling those stats helps us get a sense of if there is something that we really need to dig into.

There are two things that I've done is pull. When you see, for example, whoever we might have noted as successors or who we might have noted as potential people managers, again, getting a sense of like, okay, what does the demographic data look like across all that? And then I might actually even look at the list of all the folks in our who are of underrepresented backgrounds and see. Okay, wait, is there anyone in there that we might have missed? Right, for some reason, or that might not have come to mind for some reason. And so I think that's also a helpful check. Get a sense of that list as well and see if there is something that we might have missed because of some sort of unconscious bias that we might have been subject to, which I think we as humans are all subject to.

So those are some tactical things that I think are important to do and the process itself. But I would say the most important thing is to remember you can't just address DEI in the talent reviews. It starts way before then. For example, are the expectations you have for each employee consistent regardless of background? Were the rubrics written without unconscious biases?

At Coda, for example, the original framework for our rubrics, we actually ran through a bias tracker or bias checker. I mean, for the language, like, you would run a job description through a bias checker. And I would also say, understanding that there are systemic realities and biases that underrepresented groups have had to navigate, have we also really thoughtfully leveled the playing field for folks with all background to either ramp into our company or be successful at this project we've tasked them at?

I've seen this a couple of times, but there might be situations where an individual, someone's like, oh, I don't know if they're ramping up quickly enough in every situation. Actually, regardless of their background, I'll always look up their LinkedIn and I might see something like, okay, this person might not have had, maybe new grad hasn't had a bunch of internships before joining this tech company like a lot of our other folks might have. Or maybe it's their first foray into the tech environment after working at a bank for a long time. In that case, you need to be really mindful about probably spending more time on giving that individual the context upfront, right. And really explicitly sharing a bit more of like, okay, this is how we think about the pacers, how we release code, or the culture of our company, and things like that. So I think it's really important to think about all the different moments in which you're being really thoughtful about. Are we setting this person up for success, regardless of whatever their background might be?

Abhay Singh:

Super practical, I think two or three pointers that you share. I see no reason why most people listening into this podcast cannot go back and start implementing from the word, because. Thank you for that, for making it really simple.

Now, the last leg of my questions, my doubts that I've gathered from the community and from my research.

All right, we've done the talent review. Now, there's something, everything happens for a reason, especially any process runs because you want to achieve something. And that is where the rubber hits the road. Now, one question from a design perspective over there, is that how frequently should we be doing it? What do you want to get out of it? If you're not even going to do anything after the talent review, then why are you doing it every quarter? What variables should I be looking at if I'm an HRBP?

Emmeline Kim:

Yeah, it's a good question. And again, it goes back to, you need it. Foremost principle of understanding the needs of the business. It really depends on your business. So I'd say, for example, if there are a lot of changes happening in the company, right? And if it's probably a smaller scale company in which therefore probably a lot of changes are happening because we're figuring things out and whatnot, I would probably recommend doing very lightweight talent review checks like quarterly. Right. That could be something that makes more sense in that context, as a team grows, as maybe the changes get a bit more stable or things like that. General rule of thumb that I've seen is probably more so, like twice a year doing a check on the talent reviews. But again, you really need to think about what makes sense for your business. And there might be even some situations where it is a bit more flexible.

Right. Like you're doing things before maybe a new initiative, or you're doing things before a new business plan is happening. And therefore you don't really have a very concrete, like, these are the moments and we're going to do the talent reviews. So I would just make sure you first, again, know what's happening within the business, what's going to be most helpful at the end of the day, for whatever business strategies we have, we need to have a people strategy with it. And a talent review is an incredibly powerful mechanism to hold ourselves accountable in ensuring we have a people strategy to align with what we need to do as a business.

Abhay Singh:

The next big factor coverage. We were series A. CEO knew everyone, hey, we could get it done for hey now, but the CEO doesn't know everyone. Or hey, we are 3000 people strong. Who do we include? Can we just do it for our top two levels? What is the pro and con of doing it just for your leadership or doing it for everyone. What changes?

Emmeline Kim:

Yeah, I think it really depends on your audience and what insight is going to be most valuable for them. Right.

I've done talent reviews in the past for orgs that are like hundreds of employees, and it might involve either all the managers or maybe just like the top leadership. Oftentimes in those situations, what they're going to remember and what's probably most valuable for them to understand are who the top performers are, who the bottom folks are. And what I'll still often do is let's still protect space to do call outs. So who are the other folks that we want to call out and raise for awareness within this group? And these are folks who might either be on the cusp of being really top in the top buckets or who might be on the cusp of some of the bottom buckets or people that we might want to call out of, like, hey, I would love to actually connect this person with you x leader to get mentorship on communication or whatever it might be. So I do still think it's great to have protected time to do call outs and providing the dimensions of who you should call out for this audience.

That said, I've also run talent reviews for smaller teams, around 15 to 20 people or so. And in those instances, I've seen there be a lot of value actually going through every single individual. From a time perspective, it's manageable, but also usually when you're of that size, it's probably more likely that each person is having a pretty big impact, whether it's because of the size of your company or the size of the team, or maybe the roles are actually a bit more unique from each other too. Right? And I know that in those instances, the insights on each person is going to be really valuable for everybody in the room. So that's what I would ask is what does that audience need to know about what are going to be the insights that are going to be most valuable? And that's where you can start to kind of cut the line in terms of who you're going to discuss.

Abhay Singh:

Makes sense. One last part when it comes to the outcomes is talent review. For the large part is a discussion that you're having on your talent, right. Their strengths and what are the gaps that you have across the organization. A bunch of analysis, but some decisions must be made. And what have you seen that outcomes that are, when connected to talent reviews, generate a positive buzz in the organization.

Is it career progression? Hey, this is our bench strength. Maybe these three people can become a Head of Sales in the future. Here are dev journeys for everyone that we're going to ping in into our HR software. Or maybe this is three percent talent, right. That has consistently been low performing. We can have a counseling out conversation or a PIP, depending on the culture of the organization. What have you seen work?

Emmeline Kim:

Well, that when these decisions are tied back to talent reviews, organizations are able to see a lot more value from it. It's a good question. I would say the main outcome should be whether the business objectives are successful. And ideally, if we've actually accelerated the business too, right.

For example, a couple of things come to mind, like succession planning, just like when you're marking who might have the potential to become a people manager. I've seen situations where it could either be like someone is managing 20 people, we need to really think about how to help this person out, how do we scale them, how do we obviously help their career progression? But also, this is probably going to be pretty massive in helping retain that person too. Right. With how much they're stretched across.

So in those cases I've seen, okay, who are the people that we think could be potential people? Managers are there learning and development programs that we might want to put them into. Now, if we don't have contenders, then what are the kind of hiring profiles that we might be looking for next too? So all these things are interconnected in which, okay, then the outcome is we not only have a plan for that team, we can communicate that plan with that manager. That manager knows that reprieve is coming and we're able to set up things in a way where also the ICs are actually getting the kind of manager attention and support that they need too. Right. And then that also then probably is going to ladder up to actually being able to hit our goals the way that we want to or even have a better chance of accelerating hitting our goals. So all these things ladder up. But that's probably an example of a situation I've seen time and time again.

The other thing that I think is a really important outcome is really being able to get ahead of retention risk. Because, gosh, when someone leaves the company, especially when they're really essentially critical, it is incredibly painful. It is something that's actually going to probably affect how you've hit your goals or the morale of your team or whatever it is. So I think what is really important, which is why I've also added this to my talent review toolkit,

is get a sense of what the flight risk is for each individual, get a sense of what is most important for that person and why?

Is it their career development?

Is it their compensation?


Is it having more interesting work?

Is it having less work on their plate?

And then we can think about, okay, then what do we need to do to make sure we get ahead of that and really make sure we're engaging that person and that, oh, gosh, it's awesome. It brings me so much joy when we have a conversation like that. The manager then goes and talks to that individual or has a career development conversation with them, and then I hear from that, I see like, oh, it's great. This was on my mind.

My manager had a conversation with me about it, and now I feel really clear and excited about that next thing I'm doing, and I'm just like, oh, it's awesome that that individual didn't tell me first for me to then share with the manager. It's like they actually got that direct, proactive touch from their manager, which now has them feeling even more engaged and probably will be even more effective in their role as well.

Abhay Singh:

Yeah, I could see your eyes light up and we see this all the time, right? Proactive manager action. Like, if only we could get to that.

That's really it from my side. Emmeline.

This was so power packed and I know I've kept you longer than I promised, but I hope our committee gets a lot of value from this. I ran out of bullet points of tips at one point. I was still trying, but then I realized I'm going to go back to the recording to capture this. Thank you so much. Any parting tips that you like to give to the talent community? Your golden nugget.

Emmeline Kim:

I know I talked about the business a lot, but again, I think the top tip is really know your business. I will share a story that was shared with me very early in my people partner career. One of my Chief People Officer at that time, she told me, this should be the goal of a people partner. Say you're in a leadership team meeting with your client group. Someone walks into that room, they have no idea who anyone is or what their role is. They should not know that you are a people partner and that everyone else is a manager of that or that business based on how you're engaging in that meeting, what kind of questions you might be asking, the insights that you're sharing. So that continues to be like the North Star image that I always aim for. If I am in a meeting with my sales managers and someone else walked into the room, they shouldn't be able to know that I'm a people partner. That's how well I should know the business. So that would be my parting thought.

Abhay Singh:

So simple, yet so powerful.

Consistently, we've been sharing those tips.

Thank you so much, Emeline, and thank you everyone for tuning in. You can find Emily's profile on LinkedIn if you have any questions.

If you have some questions for us, you can send them our way or leave it in the comments.

The resources we spoke about will be appended on the web page. I'll also put them in the podcast notes.

If you have any topics you want us to cover the next time around, please write to me and I'll do my best to find the world's best experts to come and share their tips with you.

Introduction to the Podcast Series
Guest Introduction
Personal Life and Work Connections
Experience at Coda
Importance of Distributed Work
Reasons for Increased Focus on Talent Reviews
Factors Driving Talent Reviews
Addressing Excess Headcount
Balancing Low and High Performers
Setting Objectives for Talent Reviews
Aligning Talent Reviews with Business Goals
Engaging Business Leaders in Talent Reviews
Preparing Data for Talent Reviews
Relationship Between Talent Reviews and Performance Reviews
Differentiating Talent Reviews and Performance Reviews
Sequencing Performance and Development Conversations
Sequencing Performance and Development Conversations (contd.)
Preparing Data for Talent Reviews
Addressing Biases in Talent Reviews
Choosing a Talent Review Model
Benefits of the Coda Talent Review Model
Ensuring Consistency in Talent Reviews
Addressing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Talent Reviews
Preparing Data for Talent Reviews
Addressing Biases in Talent Reviews
Frequency and Variables of Talent Reviews
Coverage of Talent Reviews
Outcomes of Talent Reviews
Parting Tip: Know Your Business
Key Takeways
  • Talent reviews are important for optimizing talent in organizations and meeting employee expectations.
  • Setting clear objectives for talent reviews and aligning them with business goals is crucial.
  • Sequencing performance and development conversations can help ensure effective discussions.
  • Preparing data for talent reviews and addressing biases are essential for fair and accurate evaluations.
  • Choosing a talent review model that suits the organization's needs and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in talent reviews are key considerations. Consider the size and needs of your business when determining the frequency of talent reviews.
  • Include both top leadership and individual contributors in talent reviews to ensure comprehensive coverage.
  • Talent reviews can lead to outcomes such as succession planning and proactive retention risk management.
  • As a people partner, strive to know your business so well that others in the room cannot distinguish you from the managers.

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