The Future Is Now: Nancy Parsons Of CDR Companies On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Tech Scene

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Fotis Georgiadis
Authority Magazine
Published in
18 min readMar 16, 2022


Improve your financial leadership acumen. This is something I knew to do, but kind of ignored. I have always counted on others who love the financial aspects of the business. I like knowing where we are, setting goals, etc., but do not enjoy the tedious details, calculations and data behind the results, etc. With growing the business this is a must, so I still am working at it, and I still rely on those who are really good at this.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nancy Parsons.

Nancy Parsons, CEO/President of CDR Companies, LLC, is a globally recognized expert in combining the science of assessments with the art of developing people. In 2020, Nancy and her team launched CDR-U Coach, the first of its kind. This is an AI type avatar coach that provides individualized feedback and development for all employees and was just awarded the 2021 Gold Star Winner of the “Best New Product or Service of the Year” by the Stevie Awards for Women in Business. In February 2022, CDR Companies launched another first of its kind, STEM Fit Review, to CDR-U Coach’s action planning module. Also, Nancy was the MEECO International Thought Leader of Distinction in Executive Coaching (2019) and author of the Amazon bestseller: Women Are Creating the Glass Ceiling and Have the Power to End It.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I started my career in human resources working at a shipyard, coal mine and then, pipeline operations. I was a generalist and was even responsible for labor relations. I grew tired of the fire fighting and wanted to get in front of problems by helping leaders and executives become more effective. So, I began to gravitate to development, coaching and developing assessment measures. In fact, back in 1989 at Sun Pipe Line, I led a project for succession planning that reached every employee with a Career Enrichment Program and developmental coaching feedback with their supervisor at a minimum. This meant that every employee was afforded a custom developmental opportunity each year, not just high potentials. A custom development opportunity might have been attending a workshop, shadowing in another area of the company, mentoring, leading a study group and more. I think I instinctively knew early in my career, even before technology capabilities, that developing each and every employee was very important.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

To be candid, the most interesting story since I began my career is that I married the company doctor. He was a widower and I was a divorcee at the time. I was the pipeline HR director and he was our medical director located at the refinery in Tulsa, so we did not work at the same location. We were brought together when the new DOT drug testing regulations were mandated, and we were both charged with implementing the testing. We have now been married over 30 years! Who would have ever thought that romance could be found while working on the details of drug testing?

Can you tell us about the cutting edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

The whole focus of our technological breakthrough is to help people to be more self-aware so that they will be equipped to drive their careers and performance in the best direction to maximize their success and happiness. The truth is, studies show that while most people think they are self-aware, only 10 to 15% actually are. Our purpose is to reverse this statistic with our Stevie Award-winning technology, CDR-U Coach, a scalable assessment and coaching platform. CDR-U Coach provides personalized coaching feedback and action planning guidance based on the results of the in-depth CDR Assessments, which measure one’s in-depth character traits, inherent risks factors and drivers and reward needs. Driven by complex algorithms leveraging rich data with predictive results, CDR-U Coach provides an AI type experience for users with no two individuals receiving the same feedback — it is that personalized. It is also completely virtual with feedback delivered by an avatar coach and employees can go back at any time to review or to update their developmental action plans. This first-of-its-kind scalable talent development solution is available 24/7 to users.

In February 2022, we launched another first-of-its-kind STEM Fit Review. The lack of STEM talent across all sectors is a critical problem. This severe shortage impacts all industries and according to Deloitte in Semiconductor Engineering, 82% of executives cite there is a shortage of qualified STEM candidates, particularly in technical and engineering fields.

Interestingly, many individuals in the workplace and in college have the capability to work in STEM careers, but just don’t know it. Raw talent for STEM careers frequently goes underdeveloped, especially for female and minority candidates. CDR-U Coach now offers individual analysis and feedback on whether a candidate has the personality characteristics and motivational drivers to be a successful STEM professional or leader. This digital assessment and coaching platform segment called STEM Fit Review, which is part of the Career Action Planning Module (CAP), delineates those who have STEM capabilities. It even takes it further by identifying STEM candidates with leadership or project management strengths or math-only STEM capabilities.

How do you think this might change the world?

I believe this can change the world of work, performance, and careers, as we know it today, to be highly effective, far more productive, and satisfying. Frankly, the hard truth is that employers do a poor job at effectively identifying and developing leaders and talent today. There are systemic breakdowns and inadequacies. Here is an excerpt from my upcoming book, “Transforming Leaderocrity,”

The alarming truth is that there are far more inept and mediocre performers populating leadership ranks than stars. It has been this way for thousands of years. This is because the way we “do” leadership has not changed in any substantial way. Selection decisions, promotions, succession, development, and rewards have essentially been done in the same way since the beginning of recorded times. The decision makers chose those for leadership roles they:

  • generally like or have an affinity for,
  • feel have the right “stuff”,
  • find remind them of themselves,
  • think can talk the talk,
  • believe have the right experiential and academic boxes checked,
  • find to have a paper trail of sufficient financial performance successes,
  • trust what references have told them,
  • deem to have the needed level of confidence and boldness,
  • quietly approve of as passing the social club or comfort zone criteria; and,
  • believe it looks like they will play the part well.

Of course, the semantics have improved to some extent as well as talent development investments, perks, and glitz (executive competencies, descriptors, performance measures, incentives, etc.). Unfortunately, the process of getting ahead and becoming the chosen one or few has not changed significantly throughout the history of humankind. Those who are charming, witty, tough, articulate, courageous, reasonably intelligent, clever, well groomed, competitive, energetic, politically astute or aligned, and aggressive tend to get the prized top jobs. They always have.

Of course, there are decades of studies that suggest that anywhere from 50 to 75% of leaders are ineffective. When considering all employee levels, this is not to suggest the same ineffective rates; however, engagement, retention, job misfits, underutilization of talent, failure of D & I initiatives and more, are real problems for organizations now and into the future if we do not change how we identify and develop talent. CDR-U Coach is the solution to these dilemmas. The assessments used by CDR-U Coach are also scientifically valid tools for employee selection screening and succession planning — to identify talent to assure that jobs are filled with the best-fits. Next, it develops all talent in a way that democratizes, personalizes and digitizes, which is essential for the future and to reach all levels of employees. This means it is scalable and not manpower intensive. Last, the data and analytics can be used for enterprise-wide talent initiatives such as success planning, team formation, custom leader training, team development, talent capability analysis, training needs analysis and more.

We can no longer rely on resumes, interviews, universities attended and subjective data sources we have used to this point. We can get it right so that companies are more productive and successful; meanwhile, employees will be more satisfied and passionate about the work they do.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

I don’t think the drawbacks are with the avatar coaching feedback technology we use. In terms of psychological safety, users say they feel safer with the avatar coach because they are in the “non-judgment zone.” Also, they can take their time, pause and go back to give themselves time to think about the feedback. We also provide action planning tools to help them build tangible plans for their development.

However, what can be a drawback for some is more about the assessment results which we have been providing for global clients for more than two decades. There is a very small percentage of people and leaders who are:

  1. Not comfortable with this type of in-depth feedback — it is accurate, hard-hitting, candid and is not sugar-coated, as we identify 11 risk factors, or ineffective coping strategies when under stress. Some only want positive, happy feedback.
  2. Change-resistant and not open to new technologies or new ideas.
  3. Afraid of being “exposed” for who they are and overly worried of others’ perceptions of them.

Last, the only other drawback or caution is that companies need to adopt appropriate ethical standards of usage and terms of confidentiality when using these types of assessments and coaching technology. They also need to develop internal subject matter experts and/or rely on external consultants to guide them with communications, additional live coaching, designing succession planning systems incorporating the data, etc.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

What led me to this breakthrough idea was actually a client request, so I cannot take credit for the initial idea. Leslye McDade Morrison, Ph.D. was CLO at the Pentagon and then at the US Army Civilian University. She and her team were certified internal coaches to use our assessments for coaching leaders at their posts within the DOD. Leslye asked me if we could develop some kind of multi-media or avatar coach. She explained they had 10,000 employees who weren’t at the executive levels yet needed the self-awareness provided by the coaching debriefs of our assessments. Leslye said they couldn’t possibly afford to pay for live coaching or handle the nightmare logistics, but that all of their people needed the feedback. At the time, I responded to her, “Well I think we can, let me get on that!” We completed this goal in late 2020 with the initial release of CDR-U Coach.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

We need to communicate better with HR and talent development executives so that they will let down their guard and give CDR-U Coach a chance.

“While these may be exciting times for those who embrace and thrive on change, the truth is that most HR leaders and professionals do not have change agent profiles. Our data show that most established HR types tend to be risk aversive and prefer established solutions from well-known vendors that tend to regurgitate semantically enticing, yet low result approaches. HR people tend to be great at processes, operations, policy administration and guidance, implementing and getting things done well with consistency. They are practical, helpful and relatable. However, those relying on the existing HR playbook and who are not comfortable with change, will not be prepared for the new world challenges.”

We are developing case studies, communications and pilot testing programs with clients and prospects to help these key executives to understand the practical and business value of CDR -U Coach. They can now provide personalized development to all of the employees who typically never receive coaching as well as have a goldmine of data and analytics for talent management and development.

Also, on January 13, 2022, CDR-U Coach was honored as the winner of a Gold Stevie® Award in the Best New Product or Service of the Year — Business Services category in the 18th annual Stevie Awards for Women in Business. This was a strong validation of our new coaching technology. There was an impressive slate of judges in our category with some from large companies such as Cisco, Walmart, Macy’s, IBM, Google, London’s Academy of Online Learning and Oracle. Here is a sampling of the judges’ comments we received:

  • I spent quite a bit of time reading through this submission as this is my space. It intrigued me in reference to the avatar. The possibilities are endless — and I must admit what you are doing excited me for where this could go. We all want our employees to know their strengths and weaknesses, their areas of opportunities, and this looks like a tool that does this in a clear, non-emotional,non-judgmental way without taking away from the traditional coaching model.
  • Impressive development, CDR! The incorporation of AI and having coaching made available to all levels of employees and highly commendable.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

We have been taking a multi-pronged approach. First, since we are a small business, our budget is limited compared to large leadership and talent development competitors. So, we must get creative! I think applying for and receiving the Stevie Award was innovative and extremely beneficial. We have a PR firm that provides a great deal of social media content. We host monthly LinkedIn Live sessions with compelling guests. I speak at various conferences, am interviewed by blog hosts and media personalities and write articles about CDR-U Coach and AI coaching technology. We have a digital marketing company as well, so we have video content and other media releases. We offer “test drives” of CDR-U Coach to increase awareness and to introduce the technology. While this may not have a huge reach, I found it very clever and fun, our communications agency just designed a series of social media posts using the sitcom “The Office,” which depicts some of the key characters’ “Risk Factors.” We are also in the midst of pushing out news about the STEM Fit Review, via our newsletter and our network of CDR Certified Executive Coaches, so we are pulling on many levers. The good news for us is that the tech types love CDR-U Coach. In fact, we have quotes where they say they prefer the avatar to a human coach.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

First, you don’t get this far along in your career without a lot of help and support from many wonderful people. I could write a book on so many amazing people who have helped me along the way and who are still supporting us. So, thank you all!

However, I will focus on two special people who pushed me to get CDR-U Coach completed and over the finish line. For some history, when I started exploring technologies and designing this avatar coaching platform, CDR Assessment Group was based in Tulsa. Due to my husband’s job relocation, I had to move the business to the Houston area which pretty much shut down my development project work. I had to hire new staff, sell our building in Tulsa and just try to keep things afloat.

Through all of this, my husband, Bill, kept saying, “You have to get that coaching technology done, it is critical and innovative.” He kept nudging me to get it done as he had seen some of my early designs and business planning. He’s also been 100% committed as we personally funded, from our retirement savings, the technology development part of CDR-U Coach. That is a supportive husband!

A couple of years after relocating to Houston, I hired, part-time at first, Christine Klatt, who has amazing talent in running the business. She wanted to do volunteer work part-time too. Her background had nothing to do with assessments or talent development as she was a high-level leader in an energy-related environmental mitigation company. Immediately, she saw the value in the assessments and was drawn to our work and clients. She also saw the compelling need to get the digital coaching technology done. She not only pushed me to pick it back up and move forward, but she was instrumental in leading our technology teams and was the project manager. Had they both not believed in what we were doing so strongly and committed with their actions and support, CDR-U Coach would likely still be in my head. Of course, there were many other supporters along the way, but these two made all the difference for taking this vision to reality.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

We help people see their own gifts, talents, vulnerabilities and needs. We help individuals see their own true talent. From executives to college students, we help people realize what is best, unique and wonderful about them. We help them to avoid or mitigate potential problems by understanding their risk factors that can undermine success. We help them find joy and passion for their work. For me, this work is the essence of goodness.

While we work with a wide range of companies and organizations, we have also helped a great number of nonprofits. To name a few: Impact a Hero, VEL Institute, Lonestar Veterans and more veteran organizations. Other non-profits include universities and health care providers such as SouthCentral Foundation in Alaska and health research foundations. We’ve provided support to Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits, various church organizations, and today, are helping executive coaches who are providing pro-bono coaching to non-profits spearheaded by Val Markos, PhD. in Atlanta. Founder and president of The Reach Foundation, Tracy Young, just wrote us:

“I went through the results of my survey and found it fascinating. Thank you for the opportunity to take such a well-produced and thoughtful assessment. I loved having an Avatar. It felt so much more personal and I was able to keep focus so much more. “

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.

I would say:

  1. Most important: build a strong marketing and sales team.

We did not do this for many years, more than two decades. We sold by word of mouth, customer referrals, writing articles, speaking, etc., and did not build an effective marketing and sales plan for two decades. So, when we developed into a new technology company, we faced the same challenges as a start-up, although we have a great wealth of success stories, not enough people know about them. Now, here we are as a small boutique-type women-owned firm, trying to compete with the big boys. (Gender notation intended.)

2. Improve your financial leadership acumen.

This is something I knew to do, but kind of ignored. I have always counted on others who love the financial aspects of the business. I like knowing where we are, setting goals, etc., but do not enjoy the tedious details, calculations and data behind the results, etc. With growing the business this is a must, so I still am working at it, and I still rely on those who are really good at this.

3. Work on the business rather than in the business.

I do work on the business in terms of growth, but unfortunately, I work too much in the business, providing services to clients, developing products, marketing, sales, etc. I wear many hats as an entrepreneur. Some hats suit me better than others. In the future, I hope to find a successor who can grow the business so that I can do the things I am best at, developing services, teaching, coaching, writing and learning.

4. HR people are hard to sell to.

This is a hard nut to crack. It is kind of ironic in a way. While I was one during times past, I was definitely a non-traditional HR type. The truth was, I was the odd woman out, and I was not winning popularity contests within my HR organization. I lacked political savvy and always stayed in operational units (shipyard, coal mine, pipelines) because I couldn’t imagine myself suffering the stifling, stodgy role in corporate HR. One time, my HR VP had a Labor Relations meeting in New Orleans for those of us dealing with labor organizations. I actually had the largest number of bargaining units to deal with. I happened to be the only woman in this role and somehow I received the invitation to this summit two weeks after the meeting was held; an oversight, I am sure. Fortunately, with our good work at pipelines and in building trust with our employees, several of our labor organizations decertified while I was there. No, I wasn’t a traditional HR type. One funny comment I remember was that my Ops VP in Pipelines was worried that I wasn’t manipulative enough as a negotiator. I have a “what you see is what you get” style and I didn’t like to BS people. I was willing to push back and forth, but I failed at manipulation. In the end, my style worked and I built trust with the union reps and negotiating teams.

Here’s another irony. I have the data of these HR execs and leaders. I know their profiles, so we recognize what the problem is in getting through to them. We have our best opportunities with those who are change agents or new to their talent development roles. I am all ears for advice on how to open more doors and gain the trust of reluctant HR executives.

5. Often those that market best, not those that have the best services or products, have the most success.

This one is part of the human experience. Often, we see far less capable or talented folks gaining the most traction in business. I am not trying to be disparaging, but it is frustrating to see people selling or repackaging, the same old same old, and just wrapping these “services” in glitzy marketing campaigns or with their name recognition. They continue to win the day, meanwhile many of these individuals are not helping organizations in significant or impactful ways to move the needle. Some who are brilliant in selling themselves are often not brilliant with the solutions they provide. Just saying…

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

My movement would be to develop all talent well, not just those at the top or those designated as high potentials. You would be amazed at what talent your organization has on board that you do not know exists. Move people to roles for which they are best suited to serve so that performance soars. Last, adjust job roles and descriptions to mold to your people. Don’t force fit people because you don’t want to adjust key job duties.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Use the talents God has given you to make the world better for your having been in it.”

Robert Collier

I grew up outside of Philadelphia in a blue-collar family and was the middle of five children. I did not go to college right out of high school. I took the 10-year route, while I worked full time. Believe me, when I was young, I would have never imagined myself where I am today. Still, I always believed in trying to develop my gifts and talents that God had given me, whatever they were. I have always been on that course and am still on that path. I think it comes down to if you don’t believe in yourself and the good that you do, who else will rally with you? Mistakes are okay, they are part of the process. My journey has not always been easy, but I never gave up when I could have. Being sure to “do the right thing” and to help people has kept me moving forward. Last, my competitive drive keeps pushing me and won’t let me slow down. My work is never done. I have four adult children, and seven grandchildren, yet I am driven to push this new technology forward. Rationally, I am at a point where I likely should be slowing down. Obviously, I did not get that message as I am just revving up. I am so passionate about the work we are doing that I cannot let go. I am full of excitement and drive, and we are just throttling up. Let’s just say I am proudly immature for my age!

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 😊

Even after spending more than $50 billion annually on developing leaders, many companies still don’t have the bench strength to meet their future business goals. CDR-U Coach is an avatar coaching platform that extends the same level of assessment and feedback to all levels of employees that is typically only offered to senior leaders. It is a first-of-its-kind technology that is fueled by the CDR 3-D Suite of Assessments providing a comprehensive and scalable solution to talent development. The algorithms of CDR-U Coach are so rich, no two users receive the same feedback. This gives CDR-U Coach a competitive edge that can’t be duplicated.

Also, data from the assessments used by CDR-U Coach provide enterprise-wide solutions for: discovering hidden talent, upskilling and reskilling, identifying STEM talent, succession planning, selection screening, team building, and more.

The market we entered is more than $370 Billion global spend, with e-learning being the fastest growing segment and the #1 industry goal is “personalization of learning” which CDR-U Coach delivers!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

On LinkedIn at:

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.



Fotis Georgiadis
Authority Magazine

Passionate about bringing emerging technologies to the market