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5 Conversations Talent Managers Must Have With Their People

With US unemployment at a 50-year low and skilled workers in short supply across the globe, everyone knows that talent management is a crucial corporate function. But how to manage the talent? Effectively coaching and communicating with your people is a difficult task, one that’s as much art as science.

In her book Demystifying Talent Management, veteran HR professional Kimberly Janson lays out a playbook for managers seeking to build productive relationships with employees. She says there are five conversations you should regularly have:


Conversation 1: Tell the employee what to do.

In this talk, the manager lays out the basics. In the ideal relationship, both manager and employee know what the worker should be doing – and why. Janson says it’s important to illustrate how performance goals align with the company’s broader objectives. Janson suggests tailoring the goals to each individual. She suggests SMART goals, an acronym for specific, measurable, agreed upon, realistic and time-based. Make sure to offer rewards for achieving goals and punishment for not achieving them. But also be flexible about the goals – change them if necessary.

Conversation 2: Check in regularly.

Setting performance targets is just the start of a talent manager’s job. The real work comes in the follow-up. The manager must monitor how employees are progressing toward their goals. Make a point to schedule these check-in conversations regularly, perhaps quarterly, perhaps twice a year. These talks help you reiterate goals, offer feedback and, if necessary, adjust goals to new realities. It’s important that the manager maintains open and cordial lines of communication during these talks.

“To be a great manager, you need to care about people. To lead, you need to be committed to them. This is never truer than in developing others.”

Conversation 3: The performance review.

In a perfect world, the first two conversations make the third discussion – the performance review — a breeze. Ideally, this is a straightforward matter of determining whether the worker achieved the goals laid out in the initial conversation. The main question: Did the employee deliver on performance commitments? No matter, the answer, the talent manager should strive to keep personal opinions – either glowing or critical – out of this conversation.

Conversation 4: Talk about money.

For a worker who achieves goals, the next question is an obvious one: What’s the financial reward? Talent managers should use incentives to encourage desired results. The answer will be determined in large part by your organization’s compensation strategy, and how generously you’re rewarding talent. Incentives can be more than just salary. Make perks, vacations, promotions and other rewards part of the pay package.

Conversation 5: Discuss What’s Next.

Talented workers are keen to keep growing, so make professional development a priority. Talk to employees about their strengths and weaknesses, and about how you as a manager can contribute to the employee’s growth. Also be open about what others are saying about the employee.

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