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Ever wonder if all of your hard work and effort gets noticed by anyone? I’m sure you believe you are a superstar, but I bet you you’re not. At least not in the eyes of the people who are in charge of those things – Human Resources. There is a specific term for employees who are valued at the highest levels and have potential to lead in the future – key talent (or high-potentials). Unless you are very high-up in the organization or are part of HR, you have probably never heard of key talent or how it is defined.

I hate to be sour grapes, but the majority of employees who believe they are top performers, are not. True key talent is defined as employees who have not only the leadership potential to deliver results, but also the skill set and the commitment to the company (long-term) – we’re talking less than 5% of any company’s population. These top performers are certain they are superstars because they are told they are. Read that again – they are told by (reliable) management that they are key talent. If you have not been told yet how valued you are with the words – we consider you to be key talent, what your next three steps/moves in the organization are, asked about your career desires and flexibility, then you are not a superstar to the people who matter.

Talent Management Review

Talent management review is called many different things depending upon what company you are at – the common denominator is that this is a meeting that occurs, at least once a year, where top levels of management and HR talk about employees and determine who is worth investing in for the company’s future growth and success. A standard tool that is used to evaluate each employee is some version of a 9-Box tool. This chart plots people in nine different boxes (creative, I know), based on the following dimensions: Leadership Potential and Skills/Knowledge/Capabilities. You want to be in the boxes with the highest measurement in both categories. But know this – you are usually not being evaluated on how you are doing your current job, but if the team can see you being effective in two jobs above where you are today. So if you’re a manager, they are thinking about the possibility of you being a vice president; if you are an associate, they are discussing about your long-term probability of becoming a director. Add to these measurements, they are also asking: is he/she committed to the company; flexible in regards to either relocation or position; and want to move up the ladder.

Your director or VP team typically completes these scores and is often asked to discuss each employee who is in the top boxes, with the very top leaders within an organization. Your direct manager plays a role, but if you are not a known entity with their boss, you most likely will not have a lot of backing in those meetings (if any at all). It also helps if you have delivered a huge win right before the discussions begin – to help play off of the recency effect. Hint: most talent management discussions take place following annual reviews since performance is fresh on everyone’s minds.

How to Become a Superstar

Knowing that these discussions are taking place and what they are looking for, is a huge step in the right direction. But becoming a key talent employee takes a lot more than timing, it takes hard work, luck, and some good old fashioned politicking. Still want to play?

Deliver results: Adding value to the company and doing your job at a high level every time is critical. This component will never be overlooked and is essentially your ticket to entrance.

Get noticed: Knowing your boss’s boss and everyone up your specific ladder, is critical – and they need to know you back. You want to be sure they know what you are bringing to the table, how you have made them look good, what contributions were yours, and overall – be known for the right reasons. Be approachable, engaging, and always come ready with solutions.

Leadership potential: If you are already a people leader, you should absolutely be leading from the front in a big way. The way your team speaks about you and the results you deliver, are critical. Don’t have a team yet – be a mentor and the go-to person for your group. Step-up to the plate, take on additional responsibility to lead, teach, and play a big role helping your team succeed. Take responsibility and be accountable for your results, always. If available, take leadership training available at your company – you will learn some tips and helpful hints and you will also be showing your management team how eager you are to lead a team.

Skill set/knowledge: Show that you have the capacity and capability to learn, as often as possible. If you need to spend hours studying something after work so you become the subject matter expert in something, do it. You need to know your stuff and help others learn what they need to know at the same time.

Commitment to the company: This isn’t something you can fake. You do not need to be considered key talent to move up within an organization, so don’t think of this as a fast track to more promotions. Being committed to the company’s long-term success, mission and values is a huge part of key talent. You must be willing to wait things out, be overlooked, potentially get some bad assignments, for the bigger picture of future growth and success. Show this by telling people how committed you are, particularly your boss, and also by being a positive force at work day in and day out.

Flexibility: To some companies this means willing to relocate to where you are needed, to others it’s about gathering different skills. Either way, you have to show that you are a “go with the flow” type of person. Willing to be at the whim of the company in order to plug the holes they think are needed or skill sets they think you need.

Desire: Some people want to be high performers, but have no desire to take on the responsibility and commitment that comes with being a vice president at a large corporation. That is ok – but it is not something that can be overlooked for key talent purposes. You have to want it – badly. And essentially, be willing to show how much you want it. Tell your boss – be proactive, particularly during review time; set growth or development goals, and actively pursue furthering your career (and not from a monetary perspective).

And after applying all of the above, it all comes down to time and somewhat… popularity. If you have ruffled too many feathers in your current company, it will take a lot of time to turn their perspective around. This is an all-around look at who you are as a person and how you will deliver for the company – pass their tests and they will reward you with investing in you greatly; but know that you may never reach key talent standards, regardless of how much you want to. But trying will increase your own stock, so you can take everything you know to your next opportunity.

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Jocelyn Hallman says:

    I think this is a great post. I also think that just because someone may not be key talent in a specific organization doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be key talent in another. Especially when it comes to being committed to a company long-term or having the motivation to take on more responsibility, some people may not reach key talent status simply because the company is the wrong fit. Finding the right one might be a key to being successful!

    • melissalywc says:

      That is so right – part of being key talent is that it is a good fit for both the employee and the company. Being a great performer can only get you so far when you aren’t fully committed to what the company has to offer – either from a culture perspective or experience/opportunity perspective. You have the choice about what type of employee you want to be, at each company you go to.