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What New Managers Need to Know About Participating in Talent Reviews

At this time of the year, most companies have finished their performance appraisals, and are headed into talent reviews. As someone who has sat through dozens, if not hundreds of these over the years, here are some observations, pitfalls to avoid and most importantly, helpful tips for people managers who are attending these for the first time.

Typical Issues with Talent Reviews

1. Managers come in with an agenda. Typically, especially in organizations where outcomes are openly shared with reviewees, they want their people to be ranked and labelled in the best way possible. Why? Mostly because the resulting conversations are easier, not because this is the best for the organization. And they think it reflects positively on them to have multiple players on their team ranked highly.

2. Managers are blindsided by the views that others hold of their people. Then their own 'performance' as a reviewer tends to break down.

3. Managers have biases. They have both biases of their views of their people as well as rating biases. Some managers are 'hard markers' whereas others are notoriously easy markers.

4. The person with the strongest voice often 'wins'. The meeting facilitator, usually HR or Talent Management, plays a role in keeping the views balanced, but it can be a really hard job when a senior contributor speaks over others, or managers are unwilling to discuss in an objective way. Don't be that person!

5. Not all participants speak open and honestly nor do they don't contribute equally. New manager, that is often you, as you're feeling uncomfortable. One of the purposes of the meetings is to get different views out so that the best development action can be crafted for the reviewee: that means people have to contribute for it to be effective.

6. People forget why they are there: to make good people investment decisions, to contribute to thoughtful succession planning, and to identify developmental opportunities for individuals so that they can maximize their contributions to the organization and feel fulfilled as professionals.

7. Managers are often unprepared and don't know their own people or their peer group well.

What You Need to Remember

1. You are being judged in these meetings as much as the reviewees are. Be prepared, be balanced, and be mature.

2. Speak in examples, not just in descriptors. For example, instead of saying, "Sally is a great employee!" say that Sally built strong relationships during the product review meetings she attended and voiced valuable counter views that led to product tweaks seen as being instrumental to the success of the company's X product launch.

3. If you have a controversial point of view on someone, expect to be challenged. A great idea to make these meetings go more smoothly is to have collected viewpoints from key stakeholders ahead of time and incorporated these not only into your notes for the meetings, but into the actual performance review and discussions with the individual. Even better if you've done this throughout the year, know which direction feedback is trending, and have given your employee the opportunity to grow during that time.

4. Don't be the person who thinks all their people walk on water and everyone else's don't. It is unlikely that a whole team is ready now for promotion, has the highest potential and the highest performance. Your colleagues will appreciate your balanced viewpoint, and may even join the advocacy bandwagon where deserved.

5. These meetings are not win-lose interactions. Go in instead with two goals: 1) representing your person in the fairest, most objective way possible, that will serve your company best and 2) to learn something valuable to take back to the person being reviewed. Be the manager who shared that constructive piece of feedback that opened up a whole career or possibility.

6. You can prepare by thinking about the full group of reviewees and your interactions with them over the year. If they were on your team, how would you review them? Depending on your talent management software, you may be able to see their review and how they scored against their objectives. If you do, be sure to scan through and take some notes and have an opinion on who is demonstrating strong leadership. You'll come across as objective and well-researched.

7. The labels will change from year to year, you don't have to be married to just one. Concentrate instead on the message to your staff member from your peers; it's important they know what their brand is so that they can decide if they want to change it or not.

8. Talent Reviews are about setting up the organization for long-term success by deciding what kind of people should move forward, knowing what gaps they have to close and how to develop them to perform and lead at higher levels. If you keep these objectives in mind, your meeting will be more productive and you'll leave feeling it was worth the investment of time and energy.

Sherry Pedersen-Ajmani is an Organizational Development consultant in Toronto and Principal at Talentcraft, as well as an executive coach. Contact her at or follow her on Twitter @SP_talentcraft.

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