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If you are a manager, you have probably started to hear grumblings about “talent management” approaching as people start planning for the New Year. And then rolling your eyes because you have no idea what HR actually means when they want to manage the ubiquitous “talent” in your organization, other than creating more work for you. But Talent Management, when done properly, is a critical tool for managers, employees and HR to help keep people on-track and retain critical talent within the organization.

The Definition of Talent Management

Talent Management is a process where you asses employees within your organization and looking at specific factors that expand beyond their actual annual performance/deliverables. You take note of their potential, leadership capabilities, ambition, and culture fit. And then create a focused plan to develop the employee into their future role.


The most popular talent management template is called the “9-Box Tool.” The premise of the tool is universal, but the definitions inside each performance box vary based on company. On one side it measure Leadership Potential and the other side it measures Behaviors and Performance.



Leadership Potential is where the softer skills are presented, not necessarily tangible deliverables, but instead, how the employee works within a team, their role in their department, are they seen as someone who can make difficult decisions or lead a project, and most importantly, their long-term commitment to the organization. Each employee’s leadership potential is determined not only by shown potential capabilities, but also their ability, aspiration and commitment to the company. Where you fall on the below graph is what ultimately determines the Leadership Potential side of the equation.


Behaviors and Performance are easier to define – are they a top performer, do they deliver their goals, are they someone you can depend on to propel the organization further?

Managers contemplate “box placement” for each employee based on the company’s definition of where the employee crosses on the Leadership and Behaviors path. For example, if you have significant leadership potential and are delivering at a high rate but not beyond exceptional, than you would be placed in Box 3. If you are an excellent performer but are comfortable in your current position without any people management desires, you would be placed in Box 4. And so on… Companies tend to focus and want to develop employees who land in boxes 1, 2 and 3 – it’s their biggest bang for their buck. These are the employees often referred to as Key Talent or High-Potentials.

Why Should You Care

It’s important to know that your manager is evaluating in this manner as it will greatly influence your long-term options and growth within the company. In addition, understanding what type of performance is considered “worth developing” can help you adjust your own behaviors to further your career. For example, here is a definition I’ve seen from the “aspiration” circle for Leadership Potential:

“The extent to which an employee wants or desires: 1) prestige and recognition in the organization; 2) financial rewards; 3) overall job satisfaction and impact; 4) increased responsibility and accountability that may limit work/life flexibility.”

In other words at this company, your aspiration shows itself by having many people recognize your accomplishments, asking for increased compensation and promotions (being seen as “money motivated”), striving to be happy at work and making a difference, and never focusing or asking for more of a work/life balance. Gasp. If you are not actively seeking out opportunities to further your career path, you will often be overlooked based on the aspiration dimension.

In the “commitment” circle for Leadership Potential, it is different for each company, but here is a sample definition:

“Commitment consists of four elements:

  • Emotional Commitment: The extent to which employees value, enjoy, and believe in their organization. Internalizes the success of the business and takes a stand for the organization.
  • Intent to Stay: Employee desire to stay with the organization and being open to company relocation dependent upon company need.
  • Rational Commitment: The extent to which employees believe that staying with the organization is in their self-interest.
  • Discretionary Effort: Employee willingness to go “above and beyond” the call of duty.”

Being relocate-able can be a huge factor, especially when you are in between two boxes. In addition, your intent to stay and be a part of the organization’s future is critical. And this is something that is completely in your realm to influence by reiterating your long-term desires to your manager whenever the opportunity arises, particularly during goal-setting.

Essentially, while as an employee you will not be participating in the actual Talent Management process, you will be spoken about and evaluated behind closed doors. Knowing what they are looking for and how they will be determining your career progression and investment, puts the power back into your hands and provides you with the opportunity to create your own influence within the discussion.

Talent Management also can explain many of those promotions, rotations and opportunities provided to colleagues around you. Something to think about…

Have you participated in Talent Management discussions? I’d love to hear about your experience and if you used the 9-Box tool.