Talent Conversations

 A senior business leader was attending a session on ‘Talent Conversations’ and one of the first things he had to say was, “Why do we need to be trained on this topic, we do this every day”

It’s true; conversations with talent are going on in our workplaces every week and every day. The challenge is to have the conversations that matter to your talent. The conversations that add value, engagement and motivation as your team members go about their work.

A topic like Talent Conversations tends to bring many questions to the leader’s mind.

How frequently do they need to have a talent conversation? 
What do they do to prepare for a Talent Conversation?
What is so different about a Talent Conversation?

To answer these we need to closely work with the what, who, when, how and why of talent conversation.


A talent conversation is the link between organizational talent and their line managers. It allows for building of mutual rapport, trust and shared direction for both employee and the manager towards better performance and development, therefore it is not something that line manager needs to do for others, it is a partnership that the business leaders/ line managers need to nurture with the talent.


Talent conversations are important ways of engaging with your team members. It should include all your team members even though your approach to the talent conversation will vary. It is important to understand who you are having the talent conversation with. Manager need to do their homework before they get into a talent conversation. Some of the questions for reflections are:

How is this person doing on performance and potential?
What is the special value add s/he brings to the team?
What are his/her aspirations? How learning agile has the person been?

It’s important to see your relationship with your talent as partnership and have conversations frequent enough to engage and connect with them. A planned talent conversation has to happen at some interval to ensure there is enough time for the leaders to do different things and have different experiences. It allows for the Manager to observe patterns of behavior across different work situations. The challenge most of the time is about lack of these conversations rather than more of them.


Talent conversations are opportunities to engage and work with your people. It’s not about operational reviews or project updates.

We at CCL recommend a simple and yet powerful approach of “Assess- Challenge-Support”.


One of the first things to prepare for a talent conversation is to make a realistic assessment of where the individual is currently. All the data about performance interest and aspiration should be looked at in an integrated manner. The manager needs to bring in their directobservations and feedback to bring authenticity into the conversation. As a manager puts together this information, an important point to consider is how aware and aligned would the individual be to all this information. If the manager believes that feedback has been frequent and most of the assessment is aligned, the session needs to be planned accordingly. On the other hand if the manager realizes that a lot of this information and feedback has not been accessible to the individual and they may have a very different view of themselves, the session needs to be planned differently.

A talent conversation is an excellent space to create shared understanding of the individual’s strengths, development areas and possible career direction.


The talent conversation is an opportunity to challenge some of the assumptions and limiting beliefs that a team member may hold. The process of challenge needs to focus on next steps in the performance and development of the individual.

One of reasons managers shy away from challenge is because of a fear of demotivating the individual. It’s important to examine the belief that when a leader is challenged they may lose motivation or become defensive. Its about how you challenge and what is the focusof challenge. If the focus of challenge is to help the leader see beyond what’s obvious to them and enable their growth, a smart individual will likely lap it up. It’s important for the manager to set the intent and objective of the conversation right in the beginning.

It’s also important for the Manager to be prepared to deal with some pushback and still keep the communication open. Quality of conversation in terms of listening, asking questions, allowing silence and pause could be useful tools to deepen the conversation. Paying attention to the body language and tone of the conversation can go a long way in building the desired partnership with the talent.


The talent conversation requires that challenge is also backed with support to the individual. If the individual is taking up a stretch goal to develop self or experiment with a new role they need the support from their manager.  Support can be about the ongoing development and next steps as well as during the talent conversation. There could be moments when a person may find it difficult to absorb a message, experience anxiety and may needs to be supported in the moment. Listening deeply to the verbal and non-verbal cues, acknowledging the individual and engaging authentically with the person are some of the ways to offer support in the moment. In summary Talent  Conversations are a powerful way to engage, energize and inspire key talent in the organization. Managers need to pro-actively use the tool and not shy away from it.

Reference : Smith, R., & Campbell, M. (2011). Talent Conversations: What They Are, Why Theyre Crucial and How to Do Them Right (CCL). Center for Creative Leadership.

Author-Vandana Vishnu, a facilitator, coach and consultant in the area of Leadership Development at CCL with 17 years of experience, has worked closely with clients to design & deliver high impact leadership interventions. Prior to joining Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), Vandana was heading People Insight, a boutique consulting firm focused on leadership development and talent management. Vandana has worked in OD and L&D domain, with one of the largest Indian private sector bank, during its significant growth phase.



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