How data can help organisations identify future leaders

How do organisations spot the next future leader and groom them accordingly? The answer is complex and multifaceted. During leadership selection, organizations look at a careful mix of inherent capabilities, qualifications, domain understanding, and people skills, among other organization-specific traits. While many HR professionals and executives say they have eyes for spotting potential leadership talent, they sometimes rely more on instinct than data. Sometimes, high performance, though a good indicator, is misinterpreted for high potential. This approach can be prone to bias.

Identifying the Right Traits for Leadership Roles

Data can play a crucial role for business decision-makers. Although organisations are waking up to the potential of data for their business, this has been mostly limited to market and customer analytics. Data in talent management, productivity improvement, employee retention, and in the overall HR segment is highly under-used. To get an accurate analysis on choosing the right candidate, data can be used to identify some of the key traits that indicate leadership potential.

Applied Performance

The performance of an individual is one of the best starting points. It is important to identify how an individual uses his/her skills in their roles. An employee who invests their time and effort in not only understanding the company’s products or processes, but also sharing knowledge with teammates, teaching, mentoring, and building relationships, may be a potential leader.


The ability to adapt and evolve to new situations and circumstances is another desired attribute in future leaders. To spot people who possess the ability to adapt, metrics that track employees’ responses to change can be applied. For instance, tracking employee performance after their start dates and when they have changed positions within the company can help recruiters and managers determine how that employee has adapted to new responsibilities.


In interviews, employers often ask where a candidate sees themselves in the next five years. The replies may vary, and some aspirants may express their growth ambitions. But answers to this question don’t provide a complete picture. It’s more valuable to track employee participation in training and development, and identify those who are particularly eager to develop their skills. A carefully designed program for gathering data may even be able to determine which skills or levels of rigor the employee practiced during a particular training or development event, and provide further insight into the employee’s commitment to learning and growth, which is an essential trait for leaders.

 Multi-Metric Performance

It is crucial that employees are analysed as per their performance across different metrics.  For instance, an employee may fare excellently in communication skills but may not be adaptive to learning new sets of skills, or may not be able to take decisive actions with changing circumstances.

The more variables added to the search for potential leaders, the more complex the search can become. Here, tech tools that perform data analysis can help managers and recruiters understand an employee’s performance over multiple metrics, allowing for a more comprehensive picture of the employee’s potential.

Enhancements for Spotting the Right Talents

There is a methodical process to obtaining the best results in identifying and mentoring the next leaders in your organisation, which may look like a challenging undertaking. The best and faster approach is to combine different internal and external methodologies. A combination that clearly defines measurements and data analysis with practical application will aid in finding and cultivating the right people to lead your organization into the future.

 Success Profiles

Success may mean different people and organisations. By analyzing available data from past and current employees and their performances, organizations can build a profile of the skills, actions, and accomplishments that contribute to success. By including input from those who hold these positions and those they lead, organizations can also understand how the patterns identified by data analysis are applied to create concrete, productive results.

 Leadership Planning Models

Leadership planning models enable HR to create data-driven projections for the quantity of leaders needed, the skills they will require, and where they will be located.  Data can help in spotting patterns in your current employees’ skills and experience, and it can tell the gaps that need to be filled at the moment. Predictive modeling, a process that uses data and statistics to predict outcomes with data models, can also help to predict future needs, which also includes the need for more or different leaders.

Data-Focused Culture

To harness data for success in any business endeavor, including leadership growth, companies will need to incorporate data analysis and comprehension into their daily operations. By teaching human resources staff to consider data, a company creates an orientation to facts and strategies that can help recruiters and managers spot potential leadership more quickly.

Nurturing Your Future Leaders’ Potential

Data analytics can identify patterns and trends in your top leaders, illuminating which of your employees has the potential to take on those roles in the future. Once identified, these team members can also leverage data to cultivate their innate talents.

Righting the Value Balance

Often, in an organization certain employees who have the best potential as leaders never grasp the eyeballs of recruiters or go unnoticed, because they may not self-promote or are less expressive. These employees may be curious, highly skilled, and possessed of strong emotional intelligence, but they stick to their work rather than standing out.

Most often, these undervalued employees are the people who are well aligned with the company’s culture, which means they have higher tolerance levels for staying in the job even when they are disengaged or they feel undervalued.

Data can be used to spot these individuals. It can also help you see where they may be disengaged or undervalued, allowing you to reach out to them, tap into their passions, and cultivate their leadership abilities.

 Turning High Potential Into High Results

High-potential (HiPo) programs seek to identify workers with the potential to succeed above and beyond their peers. These programs are increasingly popular, but they’re not always successful. As per a  Harvard Business Review report, only 24 percent of senior executives believe their organization’s high-potential programs deliver strong results.

Using data to drive HiPo programs can turn these programs into spaces for cultivating identified potential leadership talent. By relying on data, current leadership can see how potential leaders respond to training and information tailored to their personal strengths and weaknesses. The program becomes not only a way to cultivate leadership talent, but to examine and correct its own mistakes in identifying potential leaders.

By Sandesh Goel, Managing Director, Eightfold India

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