How Feedback and Talent Conversations Strengthen Organizations
What can you do to improve talent development?
Teach your leaders how to give feedback regularly and well, and help them hold talent conversations with employees.
Individual leaders are in the best position to influence and develop talent — or shut it down. Managers can give employees good reasons to be engaged, work effectively, and build their skills.
Importantly, a talent conversation isn’t done to someone, but with someone. It’s about building a relationship that allows managers to influence employees toward improved performance, development, and positive outcomes.
It’s one of the simplest yet most effective ways to develop others. And, if the employee has been given honest, ongoing feedback, these conversations don’t come as surprises.
Some of the most valuable feedback is given in the moment and on routine, day-to-day behaviors. When feedback is given consistently and well, managers establish and strengthen trust. The more trust and rapport managers can build, the more readily subordinates will accept and act on future feedback, creating a pattern of learning and growth.
How to Give Constructive Feedback
Make sure your managers know that giving feedback regularly is more effective than saving it all for the performance review. It can:
- Motivate employees to continue a behavior that increases their effectiveness.
- Stop a behavior that reduces their impact.
- Encourage them to begin or modify a behavior that will make them more effective.
- Foster their commitment to their work and the organization.
Our 3-step model for delivering feedback, the Situation-Behavior-Impact Model (SBI), is proven to reduce the anxiety of delivering feedback and also reduce the defensiveness of the recipient. It’s a process that may feel awkward or too formal at first, but once managers get some practice, they find it’s incredibly helpful.
1. Situation. Describe the specific situation in which the behavior occurred. Example: “This morning at the 11 a.m. team meeting …”
Avoid generalities, such as “One morning last week,” as they can lead to confusion.
2. Behavior. Describe the actual, observable behavior being discussed. Keep to the facts. Don’t insert opinions or judgments.
Example: “You interrupted me while I was telling the team about the monthly budget,” instead of “You were rude.”
3. Impact. Describe the results of the behavior. If the effect was positive, words like “happy” or “proud” help underscore the success of the behavior.
Example: “I was impressed when you addressed that issue without being asked.”
If the effect of the employee’s behavior was negative and needs to stop, managers can use words such as “troubled” or “worried.”
Example: “I felt frustrated when you interrupted me because it broke my train of thought.”
Because you’re describing exactly what happened and explaining your true feelings — not passing judgment — the employee is more likely to listen and learn.
How to Have a Talent Conversation
A talent conversation allows managers to influence others toward improved performance, development, and positive outcomes. Talent conversations can happen at any time, but one of the most critical moments for getting them right is during your organization’s regular performance review process.
Managers need to be prepared to have 4 types of talent conversations, based on how an employee is doing. The first step is to clarify whether the employee considered top talent, a solid performer, a potential performer, or an underperformer. The conversation will have a different focus, depending on how the employee is seen:
- The Top Talent Conversation: Future Investment. Individuals who clearly meet or exceed expectations and deliver superior results are top talent. These are the individuals who are seen as the future leaders in the organization.
- The Solid Performer Conversation: Maintaining or Building Value. Solid performers are typically individual contributors who are valued by the organization, but could take on more responsibility.
- The Potential Performer Conversation: Short-Term Success. Potential performers are individuals who may not have had enough time in their role to show significant results, but are expected to bring a lot to the role they are in.
- The Underperformer Conversation: Improving Performance. Underperformers are not meeting expectations. The talent conversation should remain focused on the here and now, rather than future options, new tasks, or additional responsibilities.
Whatever other formal talent management or leadership development systems are in place, the talent conversation is where development becomes real. It’s the best time for managers to build their direct report’s commitment to the organization and engagement in the work. So the conversation itself should have a structure, too. Things will go more smoothly if you follow these 6 steps:
1. Clarify the goal. What’s the purpose of the conversation? What exactly does each of us want to accomplish?
2. Explore the issues. Assess strengths, vulnerabilities, development needs, and performance. Identify motivation and career aspirations.
3. Identify the options. Generate ideas and opportunities for learning and improvement.
4. Set expectations. What do we want to do first? Next? What are the obstacles?
5. Motivate. What support is needed? Are you sure the goals are meaningful? How can I help and what else is needed?
6. Identify the plan. How will we know you are on target? How will we track outcomes?
Demands placed on managers to meet performance goals can be relentless, and priorities and challenges shift frequently. That’s why ensuring that managers know how to give routine feedback well and how to hold meaningful talent conversations is the key to improving talent development.
Plus, check out our guidebooks, Talent Conversations: What They Are, Why They’re Crucial, and How to Do Them Right and Feedback That Works: How to Build and Deliver Your Message.