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

The American Society for Quality (ASQ) states that auditing is:

“The on-site verification activity, such as inspection or examination, of a process or quality system, to ensure compliance to requirements. An audit can apply to an entire organization or might be specific to a function, process, or production step.” 

This definition is consistent with my experience as an auditor early in my career. When something is audited, you “inspect or examine” the item to ensure it meets requirements, or said differently, it is what you think it is.  However, you also want to step back and step up to see if it makes sense in the context of the big picture.  These two elements apply whether you are auditing a financial statement, a production process or, in this case, one of your greatest resources – your talent pool.  

The talent pool represents an inventory of the human capital you have within your organization. You can look at it in total for the whole organization, or you can break it down to smaller units. The “audit” of the talent pool, most commonly called the Talent Review, is the fourth step in the strategic talent management process. 

A Snapshot In Time

The Talent Review is intended to be a strategic management discussion and review of the talent within the organization. Similar to financial audits, a Talent Review should take place at least once a year. Because it represents a snapshot in time of your talent inventory, the availability of current information and knowledge around performance and career aspirations is important. In addition, the organization chart or company structure might govern how best to look at the pool. It is common to look at talent at different levels in an advancement path.  

There are many ways to look at data for a review. One of the most common is a “9-box” format, with performance on one axis (high, moderate, low) and potential on the other (high, moderate, low). This view provides the leadership team visibility into both the strength of performance and potential to perform in the next role (i.e., their momentum toward advancement) for each individual in the pool. 

To successfully use the nine-box as a tool in talent management, you and your leadership team need to be clear on the intent. This data analysis is to be used as a tool to open-up dialogue and to inform critical questions.  It is not to label or pigeon-hole anyone. 

Once the talent pools are compiled, we encourage the leadership team to start their ‘inspection’ by getting a sense of what’s there (i.e., the first intention of an audit – how are we currently meeting “requirements” or performance expectations?).  Suggested discussion elements include:

  • Based on the evidence in results and metrics, does the data for performance look representative? If not, why not?
  • What are the first impressions of the pool? 
  • What is most surprising? Why? What questions does this raise?
  • What questions do we have about each performer and their current trajectory?
  • What needs to happen to promote greater performance for each performer?
  • For those who want to advance, what experiences or development do they need to enhance their potential to perform in the next role?

This conversation centers on the performers – understanding why they are where they are and what we can do to help them succeed. 

Critical Context

As noted above, there is a second aspect of auditing when you intentionally flip the lens to look at the totality of the item within the context of the big picture. In a Talent Review, this critical context discussion centers on the needs of the organization. The talent pools in your organization should fuel succession and strategy. That’s the big picture. That is also where there is often a disconnect in the integration with strategic talent management.   

It is not uncommon for leaders to have a conversation about succession for a position. It is not uncommon for leaders to have a conversation about talent needed for a specific strategy. What is less common is to intentionally look at current organizational results, projected future growth, succession needs, and organization-wide strategy, and critically examine the talent pool in that context.  

The discussion is somewhat unique for each different type of organization, but a few of the universal questions include:

  • From where will our projected growth come, and who will produce it?
  • What will be required to build the organization for the future, and who do we see as our next critical builders?
  • What our are critical “linchpin” positions now, and what does our bench-strength look like for those positions?
  • What do we think will be critical future linchpin roles, and how are we preparing for those?
  • How do we prepare our emerging leaders to lead our “future” organization as opposed to the one we have now?

These conversations help leadership teams align strategically around what’s next and what’s needed to optimize human capital performance within the organization. Most importantly, looking at the talent pool through these two lenses helps leadership teams take action proactively to integrate strategic needs with growth and development.  

To best serve both your employees’ needs and your organization’s needs, take a snapshot of your talent, conduct an “audit”, and consider the critical context. Step back and step up to conduct an effective Talent Review.