This article is the third in a continuing series on strategic talent management.

#PerformanceNerd. You may see that on a few social media posts of mine because I love studying, contemplating, and exploring human performance. Performance is a passion for me, which is probably why I am naturally drawn to sports, the performing arts, and people “at work” in general. It’s also why I have a strong belief in the inherent potential each person has to perform and the opportunity every organization has to promote performance and support its team members through structure, process, and tools.

Performance is at the heart of strategic talent management, and the company’s ability to unlock human potential by activating performance and accountability can make a significant difference in the process outcomes. These two elements comprise Step Three and are critical levers in achieving success through and with your people. 

Activating Performance

After you’ve identified the talent implications of your strategy [Step One] and selected talented team members [Step Two], the first goal of Step Three is to set them up for success or “activate” their performance. A few key actions to take include:

  • Being clear on your performance expectations for each role and the advancement path, if any. Strategic talent management requires a strong foundation, and that is anchored in understanding and communicating what success looks like in terms of behaviors, skills, and results and how those align with strategy. 
  • Communicating expectations any time there is a transition in a role or new expectations for the individual (i.e., a new team member from outside the organization or a newly promoted team member inside the organization). Performance starts with expectations, so clarifying expectations and performance measures from the outset provides the base for measurement and accountability. In addition, with internal transitions, having conversations to compare and contrast prior behavioral and results expectations/measures with the ones for the new role can help the performer adapt to a new benchmark for success. 
  • Creating an “onboarding” experience that includes technical AND relational onboarding. In other words, in the onboarding plan, include introductions and/or meetings with the coach, potential mentors, key networking contacts within the industry or community, and/or others who are critical to delivery of results. Help the team member assimilate on the “human” side of the role.
  • Supporting continual coaching conversations. Ineffective coaching yields ineffective talent management. It is often the biggest challenge in companies getting talent management right. A robust talent management process will include effective coaching support for the performer. This may be the direct supervisor or another team member within the organization. Either way, the role of the coach is to promote performance by having frequent, ongoing performance conversations, including just-in-time feedback and continuous improvement. 

Each of these actions will help the team member establish a solid footing and will support them in performance. This sets up the second element of Step Three, Accountability. 


For strategic talent management to be effective, accountability for performance is essential. Accountability comes through progress reviews. Over the past several years, progress reviews have taken many forms. There are companies that still do the traditional “annual review” forms, and there are companies that have eliminated them. Some are quarterly. Some are once a year. Some include ratings. Some include only anecdotal data. Regardless of form, it all boils down to this: For successful strategic talent management to fulfill its purpose for both the company and the employee, you must conduct some type of progress review. Key success factors include the following: 

  • Focusing on and exploring achievement. The best progress reviews are anchored on past successes. Too often, successes and accomplishments are given very little weight in progress review discussions in lieu of focusing on what needs to happen to get better. Interestingly, the research indicates that by talking about successes and accomplishments and exploring how those were achieved, the performer becomes more open about and creative around addressing challenges in their performance. 
  • Ensuring progress reviews are “fair and accurate”. Performers want to be held accountable, but they want to feel that they are being held accountable in a way that is fair and accurate, and that others are being held to the same standards. The sense of “fairness” connects to the concept of setting clear expectations and having conversations around them at the outset. A performer’s perception of fairness is impacted by how well they understand expectations, not being surprised, and feeling a sense of control over those expectations, especially when it comes to getting measured for goals. The desire for “accuracy” comes from the inherent human bias that creeps into rating systems, the perception that the review is not reflective of the entire performance period, or that there are “surprises” and “new information”. Frequent performance conversations based on clear expectations with just-in-time feedback should also contribute to a more accurate progress review. 
  • Focusing on development. Too often, performance reviews are about the past and not about the future. Development is future-oriented. It is considering how we take the information from the past and use it toward future moves, future roles, and future expectations. It’s discussing how do you want to grow and what opportunities lie ahead. It’s talking about what key experiences might be important to gain before going to the next level. It’s talking about what lessons have we learned and how can we use those to build toward future success. And it’s about collaborating with the performer to create a development plan integrating all of them into a path forward. One of the biggest rewards we can provide to our employees is to help them grow and develop, and having a development-focused progress review contributes strongly to that. 

Think about your performance “system.” What elements serve as a catalyst to activate performance? How do you support performers throughout? What gets in the way? How do you integrate accountability for performance? Does your system inspire and improve performance? Your answers to these questions will provide insight into where you can invest to unlock greater potential in your organization.