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Kim Janson, Author, Demystifying Talent Management

As we well know, there are a number of challenges to face to be successful in business today. Senior executives and entrepreneurs are faced with a marketplace that constantly changes, pressure from investors or stockholders, regulatory issues and many other challenges. These challenges need to be addressed with limited resources and extreme speed. To fulfill commitments and drive success in the near term and long term, it is essential that all resources are clear on their purpose, aligned and executing to their fullest potential.

One vital area where this alignment and clarity must be done is with the talent in the organization. In Demystifying Talent Management, five essential conversations are laid out to enable alignment, efficiency and ultimately success. These conversations should occur between a manager and employee and focus on the employee’s performance and development. The five conversations are:

  • The “What you need to do” Conversation
  • The “How you are doing” Conversation
  • The “How you did” Conversation
  • The “Money” Conversation
  • The “How you need to grow” Conversation

The power of the five conversations is in their simplicity. Often, the ways in which we approach employees on these types of interactions are over-engineered or sadly, not done at all.  Senior executives would reap more success in delivering on organizational goals and commitments made if they made managers accountable for being fantastic at these five conversations. Essentially, here’s what we are asking: Managers need to help employees understand what is needed of them (1), discuss how they are doing along the way to help them be successful (2), discuss how the employee did (3), discuss what the person will get if they achieve the results (4), and discuss and help employees continue to develop (5).

Doesn’t this seem obvious and a necessary part of their job? It should seem that way because it is a necessary part of their job. Managers absolutely should be having these conversations but many are not. The ones that are often do a poor job at them. Pull a sampling of results from employee engagement surveys and you will find employees asking for more direction, more coaching and feedback, more clarity on their performance and career, more investment in their development, etc.

Each of the five conversations serve different but important purposes. Together, they provide an integrated approach to meet the needs of what’s important for the employee. As entrepreneurs try to figure out how to create something from nothing and executives wrestle with how to execute their strategies, the last thing they need are employees who are unsure or misdirected. As senior leaders deal with the ever-changing marketplace and competitors who are re-inventing themselves, the last thing they need are assets becoming stale and not being developed to meet current and future demands. These five conversations make sure employees are incredibly focused and clear while establishing strong ties that bind the employee to the organization.

Let’s just take “the money” conversation and look at it from a fiscal responsibility standpoint. One of the largest expenditures in an operating budget are employees. With pressure on costs, we surely can’t afford an irresponsible approach to money management when it comes to talent. Managers who do not use a pay-for-performance approach and who do not differentiate pay for differentiated performance is simply fiscally irresponsible. Additionally, such behavior often results in a downward spiral of more costs. When you pay everyone the same, high performers get angry. They leave. The organization loses all that intellectual capital, loses the time that was spent training that individual, lost opportunity, etc. Replacing them is expensive and takes time! It’s all unnecessary.

There is too much noise that gets in the way of executing in an organization. That noise can be quieted with a laser focus on how managers are engaging employees. The five conversations can go a long way on engaging employees well by giving you the power of simplicity and connectivity through conversation. This is work that needs to be done consistently, routinely and at all levels. Frankly, the higher up you go in an organization, the less often those leaders are engaging in these types of conversations. Why take a big chance on losing with such a simple fix? Many high performing organizations have decided not to lose on the simple stuff and do this really well.  They use a maniacal focus on employee performance and development to enable organizations to be aligned and yet still go fast. It works.

About the Author

Kim Janson is author of Demystifying Talent Management: Unleash People’s Potential to Deliver Superior Results. She is also the CEO of Janson Associates, a firm dedicated to unleashing people's potential. She has 20+ years experience working in over 40 countries in senior roles such as the Chief Talent Management Officer at the H.J. Heinz Company, Senior VP Leadership Development at Bank of America, and a senior leader at Hasbro, BancBoston Mortgage, and Bank of Boston. Kim also currently coaches for the Harvard Business School.


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