How To Conduct a Talent Review

How To Conduct a Talent Review

With the increasing adoption of remote work and distributed teams, as well as the ongoing digital transformation, the skills needed for companies to achieve strategic business objectives are constantly evolving. In fact, a recent survey of 121 CEOs from Fortune and Deloitte found that labor and skills shortages are the second most cited factor disrupting their overall business strategy.

To adapt to shifting business needs, organizations need to have an understanding of which skills and competencies workers across the organization possess, as well as critical skills gaps. An effective way to gain insight into skills and overall workforce performance is by conducting talent reviews. Learn about what a talent review is and best practices to maximize the impact of reviews at your company.

Table of contents:

What is a talent review?

A talent review is a formal assessment of worker performance and potential across an entire organization. Talent reviews help leaders discover top performers, determine promotions, highlight areas for improvement, flag turnover risks, and identify skills gaps.

Depending on the company, talent review cycles typically take place annually, biannually, or quarterly. As the world of work and in-demand skills rapidly evolve, business needs can change significantly in a year and many organizations find they can benefit from completing reviews more frequently than on an annual basis.

The terms talent review and performance review are often used interchangeably, but the two are distinctly different. Performance reviews primarily focus on individual workers, while the goal of talent reviews is to glean insights from workers across the organization to identify skills gaps and understand future potential.  

Keep in mind, formal talent reviews and performance reviews are intended for in-house workers, while independent professionals receive feedback based on completed milestones and projects. To set independent talent up for success, provide succinct project descriptions with well-defined milestones.

The purpose of a talent review

According to an annual survey of HR leaders from Gartner, the top three HR priorities among respondents in 2024 are leader and manager effectiveness, organizational design and change management, and employee experience. The survey data shows that 24% of respondents say their leadership development approach does not prepare leaders for the future of work and 44% don’t believe their companies offer compelling career paths.

As managers and leaders monitor their workforce throughout the year, talent reviews offer the opportunity to maintain an official record of strengths and areas for improvement across the organization. This can help the company engage workers, develop career paths, better adapt to change, and optimize performance across teams, while also determining short- and long-term skill and talent needs to support the company’s strategic business objectives.

During talent reviews, some organizations may develop and maintain a skills inventory that lists all the skills team members possess, their level of competency, urgent skills gaps, and emerging skills that may be needed in the future. In fact, research from Deloitte found that 85% of HR executives surveyed have efforts under way to organize skills into a taxonomy or framework. With the skills inventory in mind, businesses more effectively optimize their talent management strategy.

As a next step, business leaders can outline how to fill critical skills gaps, including options to transition workers internally or bring in outside talent. One way to do so is by engaging independent talent from Upwork. Our 2022 Future Workforce Report found that nearly 80% of hiring managers (78%) who engage independent professionals say they’re confident in their ability to find the talent they need, compared to just 63% of those who don’t leverage independent talent.

How to conduct a talent review in 7 steps

Rather than asking each manager to review talent using their own approach, talent reviews should follow a standardized process across the organization. A uniform process can help leaders across the company stay organized, hold managers accountable to reviewing all workers objectively, and ensure workers know what to expect from talent reviews.

1. Avoid surprises during the review process

Because talent and performance reviews can be stressful for team members, maintaining transparency and setting expectations before the process begins is important.

Research from Workhuman found that of workers surveyed who don’t know where they stand with their performance, 60% feel constantly stressed at work. Outside of formal talent reviews, encourage managers to meet with each team member on a regular basis, such as weekly, biweekly, or monthly to discuss current projects, priorities, and goals. With these discussions in mind, workers will have a general understanding of their overall performance and talent review feedback won’t catch them off guard.

Another way to ensure team members know what to expect is by documenting and announcing the talent review process. Share an overview of the process across team communication channels, including email, messaging apps, and your company intranet. In the announcement, include details on training sessions, review forms, the overall timeline, and a point of contact for team members to ask questions as-needed.

2. Create standardized forms with relevant review questions

Standardized talent review forms can help managers diminish unconscious bias and maintain objectivity when reviewing team members by assessing each individual on the same scale. An effective form may include sections related to hard and soft skills required to succeed in each individual’s role, as well as a section focused on future potential—either in the worker’s current role or in a different capacity at the organization.  

The scale for rating talent review criteria doesn’t have to be complicated. For example, each skill or question can be scored from one to five stars, or from fair to exceeding expectations. A simple scoring system can also make the process of calibrating scores across the organization easier once reviews are complete.  

In addition to the standardized scoring system, include space to leave comments in each section of the review form. Specific comments and examples can help guide review conversations between managers and team members.

3. Brief leadership on how to conduct talent reviews

To support successful talent reviews, schedule leadership and management training sessions a few weeks before the formal talent review process begins. Offer a few times, so managers can select the session that works best with their schedules. With attendees’ permission, also record the meeting so any managers who are unable to attend can access the content.

Some points to cover during leadership and management training sessions include:

  • An overview of forms and questions to complete as part of the talent review process
  • Best practices to ensure talent reviews are consistent and objective
  • The company process for consolidating and sharing talent review details with the broader leadership team
  • Training for technology solutions or software used to manage reviews and centralize data (if applicable)
  • A list of common questions team members may ask about talent reviews and how to respond to each
  • A timeline for each step of the talent review process

4. Give managers time to review each team member

Some organizations may only require reviews for manager- or director-level workers and above. However, reviewing all in-house team members can offer your company a more in-depth overview of your workforce.  

During training sessions, set a deadline for managers to complete talent review forms and schedule discussions with all team members.

Be mindful about other priorities on the team and implement a reasonable timeline for talent reviews to be scheduled without taking too much time away from day-to-day responsibilities. For example, setting aside a two- to three-week window, rather than one week, can help ensure managers still have time for other important tasks to keep the team running effectively.

5. Encourage workers to complete self-evaluations

In addition to asking managers to review each team member, many organizations also prompt workers to complete self-evaluations ahead of talent review conversations. Through these assessments, individuals can reflect on their performance and contributions, highlight successes and milestones, and highlight areas for improvement.

Similar to the approach with managers, develop a standardized format so each team member can evaluate themselves on a uniform scale. Also schedule training sessions so workers know what to expect both as they’re completing self-evaluations and during talent review discussions with their managers.

6. Learn actionable insights from team member reviews

Once talent reviews are complete, one of the most important steps in the process is centralizing all data from individual reviews to understand strengths, areas for improvement, and trends across the organization. This data can help your company empower team members to reach their full potential in their roles while also providing the insights you need to make improvements across your workforce operations.

Workforce intelligence and performance management technology solutions are available to simplify the process of analyzing talent review data and identifying key insights. Some examples include Culture Amp, Gloat, Lattice, and Mesh.  With the right technology in place, you can more efficiently make improvements across your workforce.

Insights your team can uncover through talent reviews include, but aren’t limited to:

  • An overview of existing and emerging skills at your organization, as well as skills gaps
  • Workforce trends across teams, roles, managers, and other areas
  • A breakdown of high and low performers across the organization based on overall talent review ratings
  • Benchmark data to compare how skills and competencies at your company compare to similar businesses
  • Historical data from previous talent review cycles, helping leaders better understand how individual workers and your workforce as a whole has evolved over time

7. Create an improvement plan based on talent review takeaways

Given key takeaways from talent reviews, your organization can develop an actionable improvement plan to ensure your workforce is structured as effectively as possible to maximize business outcomes.

Some steps your organization can take as part of the improvement plan may include:

  • Promoting team members
  • Moving team members to a different department that better aligns with their skills
  • Restructuring the organizational chart
  • Identifying team members who may no longer be the right fit for the company or their specific role
  • Developing succession plans
  • Offering talent development opportunities to build skills
  • Investing in new resources to help team members improve in their roles and support a more engaging worker experience
  • Engaging outside talent, including in-house workers and independent professionals to address skills gaps

What to include in a talent review

Effective talent review questions focus on each worker’s overall performance, contributions to the team, and future potential as the organization continues to grow and evolve.

An evaluation of hard skills

Managers should maintain a list of hard skills needed to succeed in each role on their team. Hard skills are job-specific, technical, measurable competencies gained through education and experience. While in-demand skills evolve over time, the job description from when each worker joined the team is a helpful starting point.  

Hard skills differ for each position on the team, but the scoring system should be the same. For example, a marketing team member may need to possess skills in search engine optimization and project management, while a developer role requires coding skills in specific languages.

Based on the list for a particular role, managers can score a worker’s competency level for each skill on a scale of one to five or fair to exceeding expectations. This can help leadership identify top performers versus individuals who need to focus on improving their skills across the organization.

Examples of soft skills in action

Soft skills are character traits that show an individual’s ability to work well on a team. They can be more challenging to measure than hard skills, but are just as important. If a worker lacks the required soft skills for a role, this can have a negative impact both on their ability to complete their own work and productivity across the team.

Develop a list of soft skills required for workers to drive positive business outcomes on your team and rate individuals using the same scoring system as hard skills.

Examples of soft skills include:

  • Adaptability
  • Communication
  • Organization
  • Time management
  • Conflict resolution

Because soft skills aren’t as straightforward to measure as hard skills, include specific examples highlighting when individual workers strongly displayed key soft skills or demonstrated that certain skills require improvement.

Future-focused questions

Following an evaluation of overall skills and performance, managers can have collaborative discussions with team members about their personal goals and how they fit in with broader business objectives.

Some examples of future-focused questions include:

  • What do you hope to achieve in the next quarter or year?
  • Which tasks or responsibilities are you most passionate about?
  • How do you see your role evolving at the company? Are you satisfied in your current role or seeking additional responsibilities?
  • What are your three- to five-year career goals?
  • What professional development opportunities would you like to explore in the next year?
  • Are any specific roadblocks holding you back from doing your best work?
  • How can the management and leadership team help you improve in your role?

What to do after a talent review

Based on the manager’s review and team member’s self-evaluation, the manager and worker can discuss key takeaways and next steps. Some of the next steps for the worker may include improving specific skills, learning new ones, taking on more challenging projects, or managing another team member or intern to develop leadership capabilities. The manager may also have action items from the review related to offering more support or resources to the team or specific individual.

When outlining objectives based on the talent review conversation, consider leveraging the SMART framework to ensure goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. For example, a SMART goal for a sales representative may be to increase the number of prospect calls scheduled by 10% in the next quarter. If talent reviews are infrequent, such as on an annual basis, a manager and team member can set aside time in recurring one-on-one meetings to touch base on the progress of specific SMART goals.

Whether a team member needs to strengthen skills to succeed in their current role, or they set a goal to learn new skills to grow and evolve in their careers, consider offering talent development resources. Some examples include:

  • Skill assessments
  • Stretch assignments and experiential learning
  • Mentorship opportunities
  • Online learning platform access
  • Stipends for professional development events and courses
  • Searching for talent? See how Upwork can help

    Implementing an efficient and impactful talent review process can help ensure your organization has the talent and skills you need to adapt to shifting business priorities. Whether you’re developing a talent review process for the first time or looking to improve the one you have in place, skilled independent talent management professionals are available on Upwork to help.

    Through Upwork, also access diverse independent talent with more than 10,000 skills across a wide range of specialties to fill gaps you identify during talent reviews. Forward-thinking businesses turn to talent on Upwork to scale their teams and drive business agility while reducing operational costs. Get started—search for talent today.

    Upwork is not affiliated with and does not sponsor or endorse any of the tools or services discussed in this article. These tools and services are provided only as potential options, and each reader and company should take the time needed to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situation.


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    Author Spotlight

    How To Conduct a Talent Review
    Beth Kempton
    Content Writer

    Beth Kempton is a B2B writer with a passion for storytelling and more than a decade of content marketing experience. She specializes in writing engaging long-form content, including blog posts, thought leadership pieces, SEO articles, case studies, ebooks and guides, for HR technology and B2B SaaS companies. In her free time, you can find Beth reading or running.

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