3 Conversations You Need To Have With Your Employees Right Now!

Several years ago, I was facilitating a talent review meeting with a room full of executives.

After hours of great dialogue, we all settled on where their people fit on the 9 box talent grid.

The leaders were engaged in the process and were excited to be able to make more informed talent decisions to match the organization’s strategies.

And then came the moment of truth:

What do we say to those being reviewed?
  • Do we tell them which talent box they were placed in?
  • Do we tell them which position we pictured them filling, in 1–3 years?
  • Do we leave it up to each manager to decide?
  • Or, do we not say anything to them at all?

After much dialogue, the eventual decision was to tell everyone how much the organization valued them… and that was it!

This approach worked well for the leaders in the room, but it was not very helpful, or engaging, for the people being reviewed.

So what is the best approach in having talent conversations?

Each organization chooses to answer this question differently. Yet there are best practices that, when followed, can build the credibility and effectiveness of the talent process. They can help you inspire and motivate and also increase the engagement and commitment of the employees being reviewed.

This will require courage of you as the leader, but it can pay off massively for your talent, team, and organization.

Below are the three talent conversations that you must have to help inspire, engage, and retain great talent.

We’ve also included a complimentary printable Leadership Conversation Guide at the end for your convenience.

What’s the key message for me to convey?

“We want to invest in you and your growth.”

Who should I have this conversation with?

This is the conversation with highly talented individuals who deliver beyond expectations and have great potential. They want to be challenged and expect greater expectations to come to them.

How can I best convey this message?

Your discussion points could include:

  • You have a long runway and you add tremendous benefit to the organization.
  • We like what we see and we want to see more in the future.
  • We as a company want to provide opportunities, resources, and support to develop and hone your leadership ability.
  • I want to meet with you regularly, identify and discuss your career goals, and work through a personal individual action plan.
  • Senior leaders will be cheering you on and paying attention to your current and future successes.

A Word of Caution: The caution with this conversation is not to promise, directly or indirectly, any specific position. Do not mention specific titles for future jobs. This will create expectations that are beyond anyone’s ability to keep.

What’s the key message for me to convey?

“You are a valuable and solid contributor!”

Who should I have this conversation with?

This is for the steady performers, those with longer tenure, and/or those with great knowledge of the organization’s history and practices. They are often the glue that holds teams together during the ups and downs. They know their position and specific function well. They are subject matter experts and can have strong relationships with others throughout the organization.

How can I best convey this message?

Your discussion points could include:

  • You are greatly appreciated for all of your contributions.
  • You are a strong performer.
  • You provide great stability for the department and team.
  • You have strong expertise in your field and the organization recognizes and values your knowledge and abilities.
  • I want to make sure you feel supported and engaged.
  • You are in the right place to optimize your value to the team and organization.
  • I want to help you feel challenged within your current position.

A Word of Caution: Do not lead them to think they are getting ready for a promotion. Clarify with them that they will be able to add value in their current or similar position for the near future. Questions about future positions can be addressed case by case.

What’s the key message for me to convey?

“Your performance needs to be better.”

Who should I have this conversation with?

This is for the underperforming individuals who are not delivering what the organization needs. They are not consistently hitting the expected bar for quality, cost, or timeliness.

The conversation does not address potential; it is all about performance.

How can I best convey this message?

Your discussion points could include:

  • I want to help you be successful.
  • Your performance is not where it needs to be.
  • We will focus on the short-term, the next 1–6 months.
  • Let’s inventory your skills, strengths, and motivation to make sure it is a good match for the position.
  • Let’s write down very clear expectations and set very specific and measurable performance goals.
  • We can identify logical check-in points to assess improvement.

A Word of Caution: Avoiding this kind of conversation can negatively impact the high performers because poor performance can pull down others’ engagement and their confidence in leadership.

Final Note:

Employees who have been in the organization or in their position for less than 6 months are typically too new to be put into any of these conversations. After 6 months, you will have a much better idea which of the three conversations you need to have with them.

The best thing for you to focus on with new employees is to ensure that they have the resources, expectation clarity, and leadership support to achieve quick wins.

Our Gift to You

We’ve created a complimentary Leadership Talent Conversation Guide for you to download and use, absolutely free!

Click here now to download the guide now.


About Daniel Stewart

I’m a Leadership, Talent, and Change Consultant at Stewart Leadership. I thrive in supporting top performing companies manage and retain exceptional talent, and coach the leaders of tomorrow.


About Stewart Leadership

Stewart Leadership is a talent management and leadership development consulting, coaching, and training company building leaders in start-ups to the Fortune 500.Click here to contact us and discover how we could partner with you.


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