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Unlocking Potential: Navigating Talent Development Conversations

First, let’s start by exploring the difference between talent management and talent development.

The primary goal of talent management is to ensure an organisation has the right people with the right skills in the right positions to achieve its objectives. It involves the strategic process of attracting, retaining, and maximising the potential of employees within an organisation.

Talent development is a component of talent management, where the main objective is to empower employees to reach their full potential, contribute effectively to the organisation, and fulfil their career aspirations. It focuses on nurturing and enhancing the skills, abilities, and potential of employees.

Most talent conversations tend to happen around a company’s regular performance review process. Many organisations will use a talent matrix to assess and categorise employees. I’ve come across many variations of a talent matrix; at its simplest it typically consists of two axes: performance and potential.

Performance: considers how well an employee is currently performing in their role, exploring factors such as productivity, quality of work, meeting goals, and adherence to organisational values.

Potential: evaluates an employee’s potential for growth, taking into account their abilities, willingness to learn, adaptability, and readiness for increased responsibility.

Performance is usually easier to measure, as no doubt you’ll have established SMART objectives for your team! Assessing potential can be challenging, but there are some key indicators such as drive and ambition, learning agility and intellect. As you prepare for your talent conversations, consider the following questions:

  • How willing are they to make sacrifices or take risks to develop themselves?

  • What’s their ability to problem solve and tackle complexity?

  • Do they ask insightful questions to drive progress?

  • Do they step in and lead others when required?

  • How capable are they?

  • Do they have a clear understanding of their capabilities as a leader?

  • Do they actively seek out opportunities for development with their next role in mind?

  • How frequently do they reflect on and learn from their experiences?

Leaders need to be prepared to have four different types of talent conversations, depending on where they view an employee on the talent matrix.

Top Talent

These are individuals who consistently meet or exceed expectations and deliver exceptional results. They are seen as future leaders of the organisation. During talent conversations, recognise the individual’s high-performance level and perception of their leadership skills. Explore their future aspirations, motivations, and desired development, and identify how to provide them with experiences needed for future roles. Work out what you can do to ensure your top talent stays within the organisation.

Solid Performer

These individuals are consistently delivering value in their roles, producing quality results, and contributing positively to overall team success. Acknowledge the individual’s consistent performance and convey your appreciation of their valuable contributions. Direct the discussion towards exploring their ambitions and potential to take on more, as well as identifying areas for improvement and growth in their current role.

Potential Performer

These individuals may not have been in a position long enough to demonstrate notable results but are expected to make a substantial impact in their role. Focus the conversation on sharing the potential strengths you have observed. Identify what steps they could take next, including any performance concerns or barriers to success, and how you could support them.


These are individuals who are not meeting performance expectations. Concentrate the conversation on current performance rather than new tasks or opportunities. It’s vital to be clear about concerns with current performance and what needs to be improved, before addressing considerations regarding potential. Focus on identifying specific actions necessary for the individual to succeed in their role over the performance review period.

A talent conversation is about building a relationship that allows managers to influence others toward improved performance, development and positive outcomes. It’s just as important to understand motivations and ambitions as well as an individual’s performance and potential.

Not all solid performers have ambitions to advance up the organisation. Regular conversations and feedback provide insights on how to engage and retain talent in your team, while also managing expectations to avoid surprises during the formal talent development process.

Plus, don’t forget to put your strength spotting into practice as we discussed previously!


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