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Leveraging Data for People Decisions from Recruitment to Retirement

To make talent decisions today, compile multiple strands of data such as performance, assessments, education and more to show a the full picture of a candidate to the C-Suite.

An image of a person surrounded by a circle of lights.

​When building succession planning programs, data-based decision-making is often overlooked by executives as they could fall into the unfortunate situation of promoting the biggest extravert or most likable person on their team. In the aftermath, often a leader cannot describe to their disappointed employee why they did not get the promotion they had been working towards. Leveraging data is your secret weapon to avoid these pitfalls.

As I have built succession programs, I always start by weaving together multiple strands of data: performance, assessments, education/job history and professional aspirations. Together these pieces can form a complete picture of a candidate and allow you to tell their story to the CEO and the rest of the C-suite.


Performance data can be pulled from your HR information system, showing you who your top performers are. I encourage executives to conduct a three-year look back to see the level a person has performed at consistently. In addition, do not overlook your learning management system as many packages today offer the ability to house a variety of data and build reports. Some programs are sophisticated enough to pull that data into talent presentations or generate nine-block grids to compare candidates.

A nine-block grid is a way to assess your talent based on potential and performance. Laying out your candidates by highest to lowest potential and highest to lowest performance. Those high in potential and performance are the super stars you may want to invest further in. One word of warning from experience, if you don't take the time to clearly define "potential," your C-suite colleagues may fall back into opinions or likability as the criteria to sort talent. 


Another data point is education and experience. We often overlook a basic resume review to see what roles a person has had in the past that may qualify them for future roles, even outside their chain of command. It is also critical to facilitate a conversation around education; are there some roles that require the critical thinking that a bachelor's degree provides? Are there positions that require an MBA? If so, make these decisions early in your succession process so that you can build an education reimbursement program and message to your highest potential employees that education is critical to their success.


I encourage any organization to invest in psychometric assessments. As they can be used as a critical data point for employee selection, development and succession planning. Many of them have job models and competencies that align to these jobs. Once an employee completes the assessment, reports can be run to see how their behaviors align to those of successful senior leaders.

When selecting the right tool for your organization begin by understanding how the job models are built and the competencies are selected to support those job models. Ask the vendor for a free assessment and go through the experience to see how it felt to take the assessment and understand the tools that are delivered. Today many vendors have data analytics where you can compare candidates in their software against each other and different job models. These tools can be used for the candidate's professional development. The personalized report will highlight your employee's strengths and developmental areas, outline stress behaviors, and provides behavioral feedback on what they can do differently when in stress. Many tools today also create coaching reports for leaders to use when engaging their employees.

As you go through succession planning to determine your high-potential employees, many psychometric assessments partner with 360 reviews. When a 360-feedback tool is administered, the feedback can often be overwhelming, leaving your employee unsure how to improve their skills. Their psychometric assessment can be leveraged for that debrief conversation to help them make a connection between how their behavior impacts others and why they act the way they do. Understanding their own data can be very powerful in unlocking necessary behavior changes.

Putting the Data to Work

Once you have identified the data sets available, a succession planning program will only be successful if it leverages the data for decision-making. Your program should look at both candidate data and the roles that drive your organization. At Members 1st Federal Credit Union, we have analyzed our positions by creating a Positional 4 Blocker. All roles were separated into one of three groups:

  • Mission-Critical – Senior executives that drive the business. If left on vacation for an extended period, it will pose a significant risk to the business.
  • Pivotal – Member/customer facing roles that impact the reputation and/or success of the organization to our members. These roles are visible to other functions and rely on partnerships outside of their world to achieve objectives.
  • Necessary to Run the Credit Union – Frontline staff that are the talent pool we promote from.

From there, we focused on Mission-Critical and Pivotal positions to align our talent and see gaps:

​Mission-Critical Positions
with no Internal Talent

​Mission-Critical Positions
with Internal Talent

​Pivotal Positions
with no Internal Talent

​Pivotal Positions
with Internal Talent

This approach allowed us to see gaps of talent and plan now if any positions were to come up without talent available internally.   

All this work leads to our talent alignment discussions held with the C-Suite. In these conversations we discuss top talent, the roles they are interested in and the skills they currently have. We also have rolled out a Master's certificate program to increase the leadership and business acumen skills for our top talent.
As you prepare for your next talent discussion, engage first with your HR team to understand what data you can leverage before making gut decisions on people. It may help you see talent you could not before and retain the highest potential employees. And remember that succession planning is a living and breathing process. Reports that you run today quickly become outdated. And the data you pull changes each year. Challenge yourself to refresh the data frequently and meet often in order to minimize risk to your business.

Sara Kennedy, SHRM-CP, is Senior Vice President of Associate Experience for Members 1st Federal Credit Union in Mechanicsburg, Penn.


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