You Want Me to Do What?

Most managers aren't taught to talk about the talent on their team. They're conditioned to focus on business results, not succession planning or development or any of that "mushy" HR stuff.

So imagine the feelings of anxiety when a meeting titled "Talent Calibration" appears in a manager's inbox.

You want me to talk about the performance review ratings I gave my team? And say out loud what I think each person's potential is? And listen to what my peers think about those ratings I gave? And give feedback about people who aren't even on my team? Do you want my first born too?

The first time a calibration meeting happens, managers freeze.

... crickets ...

They're scared. They might say the wrong thing. The information feels so private. They want to protect their team. They don't want to look like a bad leader. They don't want to have a negative impact on someone's salary or bonus.

As a Talent Manager, talking about performance and potential ratings is second nature but when launching a talent calibration for the first time, it's critical that I acknowledge managers don't feel the same. I have to take a thoughtful approach so they feel less anxious on the day of the meeting.

I meet with the executive ahead of time to gauge the current team culture and help with messaging. Are managers feeling beat down? Are they energized after coming off of a great year? What am I walking into? This is crucial - it lets me know how positively or negatively I can expect conversations to go, which impacts the type of questions I ask.

We also talk about goals for the session. Do they want to succession plan? Use the 9-Box grid to come up with development activities for the top 15%? Maybe just help managers get a feel for how their peers rate employees? Then, we create the communication, which looks like an email explaining the what and why, along with a follow up conversation in the next team meeting. HR should not be the messenger when introducing the concept of a talent calibration.

I use encouraging language leading up to the meeting. This sounds simple, but it has a huge impact. In the calendar invite, I also share why we are calibrating (we want to identify and promote your most talented people!) and what the manager needs to do (be prepared to share all the amazing things your people are doing!). I drive by their desk and ask "How are you feeling about this week's calibration meeting? What questions do you have?" And then I listen.

The meeting always starts slow. No one talks except the executive and the manager of the employee being presented, and that's ok. We start with the 4 and 5 performance ratings (the highest ratings that can be earned) so that the conversation is lighter and easier. The more positive and transparent that the executive is, the more quickly managers start talking.

I worked with Felicia on the xyz project and agree that she exceeds expectations. Her attention to detail and willingness to take on more work just to make sure we delivered on time impressed me. I'd say that she is definitely developing and could be ready in 1-3 years for a promotion.

I encourage.

This is exactly what we're looking for! Thanks Jim for sharing.

I ask probing questions.

If Margaret got a 4, do you think she should be rated as high potential instead of developing? What is holding her back? Who else has worked with Margaret?

It takes a few rounds, but gradually I see the anxiety begin to wear off.

Managers walking into a calibration for the first time have their armor on. They want to shield themselves, hide from disagreement, and protect their people. It's the Talent Manager's job to break through that armor because the outcomes can be so, so motivating: improved ability to rate performance, increased knowledge of who's who in the department, and individualized development activities that grow and motivate employees.

First comes encouragement and communication.

Then the magic happens.