Knowledge and Insights

The Importance of Succession Planning in Government

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According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Census of Governments report, the number of state and local government employees decreased 0.2% and 1.5%, respectively, from 2010 to 2011, the latest available data years. This decrease, seemingly a continuing trend, stems from many factors, such as early retirement incentives, government downsizing, and private sector opportunities. Today, with older employees in leadership positions looking toward retirement, it is becoming essential for government managers not only to find the best candidates to fill those roles, but also an ideal method to do so.

It’s important to remember that succession planning is not just the process of finding someone capable to take over a position in the short term, but also of finding practical, efficient ways to continue the process over the long term.

While looking externally is often a government entity’s initial action when it needs to find new leaders, the first place that management should seek heirs is its own talent pool. If those currently in leadership positions identify candidates capable of taking the helm, programs can be crafted to develop their leadership potential. Such training can come internally through meetings and workshops, or externally through academic programs or conferences. Establishing a mentoring program that fosters the professional development and growth of younger or inexperienced employees would also be helpful in this regard.

Conversely, if an entity believes its employees are not equipped to move into leadership positions or are too one-dimensional, it should reshape the workforce. The goal may not be a change in the number of total employees, but streamlining might be required to produce the right skill sets and talent. Current government leaders should look to create a culture where employees are well rounded, experienced in different responsibilities, and comfortable changing tasks and roles. It has been shown that employees often do not develop professionally because they continuously perform the same job. Internal job rotation may not only spawn future leaders by placing some employees on a path to leadership positions, but also help the entity find new ways to better perform its tasks.

Some of the key elements to incorporate into an effective, formal succession planning process include:

  • Understanding the current state of the entity and when action regarding employment is required.
  • Knowing how to fill the gap in talent – Potential successors may already be available to your entity, but require further development, or they may need to be pecked from industry or academic institutions.
  • Initiating a process for leadership development – This should incorporate a qualitative approach explaining how it will be done and a quantitative approach pointing to metrics and results.
  • Tracking the talent within the entity – After finding those capable of filling leadership positions, it is important to track their professional development and training.
  • Using the available talent data – After steps 1 through 4, managers can assess what is working for the entity, and what needs to be changed to make the succession process smoother and simpler for all parties.
  • Identifying leadership positions and adding resources to support the entity – Some departments within government entities lack titles identifying their leaders, despite having them. Giving titles to those presently in these roles will enable all employees to better understand everyone’s positions along the path to leadership.

Effective succession planning is an integral part of a government’s plan for sustainability and unhindered continuity. While some entities’ leadership positions may not be at risk for turnover, forward thinking by all governments about implementing effective succession plans, both short- and long-term, can make the transition into these roles easier on both today’s and tomorrow’s leaders.

If you have any questions or would like further information please do not hesitate to contact us at 609-689-9700.