As people managers, you are in the best position to influence and develop talent, or to shut it down! One of the simplest yet most effective ways to develop others is to have a really good conversation about a person’s performance and potential.

A talent conversation builds a relationship that allows managers to influence others toward improved performance, development and positive outcomes. Talent conversations can happen at any time, but one of the most critical moments for doing them right is during your performance review process.

Managers need to be prepared to have four types of talent conversations, each focusing on a different key message.

The Top Talent Conversation. The message: future investment. Individuals who clearly meet or exceed expectations and deliver superior results are top talent. These are the individuals who are seen as the future leaders in your business. During the conversation with top talent, you should:
Recognise the person’s high performance level and perceptions of their abilities and potential.
Focus on how to provide them with the skills and experiences needed for future roles.
Discuss future aspirations, goals and desired development.
Find out what motivates them and what you and your colleagues can do to ensure that they stay in your business.
The Solid Performer Conversation. The message: maintaining or building value. Solid performers are typically individual contributors who are valued by your business, but could take on more responsibility. During this conversation you should:
Recognise the person’s solid performance level and accomplishments.
Convey that they are appreciated and well placed, with potential to grow in their current position.
Focus on how the person can improve in their current position, staying aware that new opportunities may arise in the next one or two years.
Learn how you can best engage and retain this individual.
The Potential Performer Conversation. The message: short-term success. Potential performers are individuals who may not have had enough time in their role to show significant results, but are expected to bring a lot to the role they are in. During this talent conversation, the focus is on ensuring a successful transition by:
Sharing your perceptions that the person has high potential.
Identifying any performance concerns or expected challenges.
Focus on the steps that they need to take over the next three to six months, identify how you could provide support, and discuss how to remove or mitigate any barriers to success.
The Underperformer Conversation. The message: improve performance. Underperformers are people who are not meeting expectations. The talent conversation should remain focused on the here and now, rather than future options, new tasks or additional responsibilities. During the conversation with an underperformer you should:
Clearly identify concerns about performance and potential – be clear about why their performance needs to be improved.
Focus on performance issues before addressing concerns about potential.
Concentrate on actionable next steps required for the individual to be successful in his role for the next three to six months.
Of course, preparing for and having a talent conversation are two different things. Remember: a talent conversation is not done to someone but with someone. To guide the discussion, it helps to follow six steps:

Clarify the goal. What is the purpose of the conversation? What exactly does each of us want to accomplish?
Explore the issues. Assessing strengths, vulnerabilities, development needs and performance enhancement. Identifying motivation and career aspirations.
Identify the options. Generate ideas and opportunities for learning and improvement.
Set expectations. What do we want to do first? Next? What are the obstacles?
What support is needed? Are you sure the goals are meaningful?
Identify the plan. How will we know you are on target? How will we track outcomes?

People Central can help with your talent management processes, including measurement frameworks and facilitating discussions. Contact us at to discuss how we could help you to get the best from your people.