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4 Talent Conversations Managers Should Be Having

Four talent conversations between managers and employees that make a significant impact to engagement, performance and business results.


Talent development - strong talent development - is centered on the conversations between an employee and manager on where that employee stands with performance and potential. Yes, there are needed activites that we Talent Folk facilitate to ensure sound talent conversations. Yet strip away the tools and facilitated discussions that we support, and it's the manager engaging her employees that creates positive talent development mojo, such as improved performance, career development and strong internal pipelines.

My soapbox in talent development will always be about simple, frequent, candid talent conversations between leaders and employees. "The business of business is people," as Herb Kelleher said. And I believe that to be true 110%.

This year before we get too far into setting goals and organizing the year, let's pause and review the handful of talent conversations that are worth prioritizing in your talent strategy. For the biggest impact to the business and the teams you support, help managers with employee discussions on these four talent conversations:


The Performance Check-in

This one is THE most important. It's an employee's gauge on how he is performing, what he should be improving and what he does that adds value. Most organizations do this annually. If you've hung around this site much, you know that I advocate for frequent performance management conversations - once annually really won't cut it. If you don't have continuous performance management in place yet, managers should at the least host a check-in to review the previous year. It also sets the stage for compensation decisions, such as bonus planning and merit. This conversation is critical. Don't let managers shirk this one, because it's hard and/or they are busy. Track it and share accountability measures if needed. Ensure it's happening.


Interested in learning more about continuous performance management? Start here.


4 Talent Conversations Managers Should be Having; man in blue shirt smiling at someone across a workspace

The Follow-up Succession Planning Update

Guide managers to have a conversation with high potentials about their value and place in the organization. Letting employees know that they are on the list and that the organization has a plan in mind for them is gold. Gold. Managers don't have to tell them where they fall, who said what or exact details. Guide managers to tell employees that they (the manager) and the organization see a lot in them, their continued contributions are appreciated and then transition into a career discussion about what's next or a development plan. As I said, gold.

The Merit Conversation

Do you have your managers prepare notecards or share a letter on merit increases? That's great. It's not enough; it also merits (see what I did there) it's own conversation about what employees can expect… or not. Merit is a tough task for managers without the need for a conversation. The task is like spreading a dollop of peanut butter across an acre of bread. Making decisions about who warrants how much of the meager budget allowed is tough, and it's not easier with the knowledge that employees will need to be informed about how they fared in the peanut butter spread. A candid conversation with employees is critical so they understand how the budget was applied, the factors considered and what they can do to shine next year to earn an extra swirl of the spread.

The Career Conversation

The last conversation that makes up this handful of talent conversations is a discussion on career. In today's talent market, if a manager is not having career conversations, he is likely not retaining employees. Employees want to know what's next for them and/or what opportunities they have to grow their skills. If managers are not reinforcing this conversation, they are missing out on a great opportunity to increase engagement, retention and likely a productivity boost.

Yeah, sure, it would be great if managers had these talent conversations… but I can't make them do it

True, you can't. But you, Talent Folks, are in a prime position to plan ahead and set the standard for the talent conversations that should be happening throughout the year. Develop templates and quick job aids for reference that offer clear direction on how to conduct these conversations. Make room on calendars to meet with management teams to set expectations early. Build talent conversations into processes. Most importantly, connect the dots for managers on the importance of these conversations to retention, engagement and performance. You're right, you can't make a manager have these conversations, but you can coach, prod, offer support, hold accountable and offer more support.

If all else fails, share this plot line with your customer…

I once supported a team of managers who were too busy or found it uncomfortable to have talent conversation with their team members. You know what happened?

  • One manager spent all of her time managing performance. Her employees didn't know what they were not doing right, so they didn't fix it and quickly became performance issues. She spent all of her time on letters of expectation, documenting everything, close supervision and eventually firing employees faster than she could backfill them.

  • Another manager inherited a team of star players. All of them were enticed away to higher level roles at competitors. All of them were on succession benches across the organization because of their high sustained performance. The new manager didn't make time for follow-up succession conversations, so his team didn't know they were on succession plans and shared in exit interviews that they didn't have development plans.

  • Another manager found that performance slowly waned, as he neglected to have ongoing performance conversations and 1:1s with team members. Employees were less engaged each year and performance was mediocre. Stagnation set in and the team was finally disbanded for not producing anything of value.

  • I watched all of these managers stay stressed out, working long hours to compensate for lack of team performance.

  • All of these managers were passed over for new opportunities.

If nothing else, encourage your customers to be selfish about their motivations for having talent conversations with team members. Managers are only as successful as their teams. If this causes them to engage in the conversation, we'll take it!


Share this list of talent conversations with other Talent Folks and HR Pros. Heck, send it to the managers you support. Let me know how the talent conversations go throughout the year. I'm eager to hear about what works for you and what you recommend doing differently.

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