Blog Post

Succession Planning in the Public Sector? Not Impossible!

Steve Dobberowsky

Director, Strategy and Value Service, Cornerstone

I find it happens all the time, when discussing the importance of succession planning in the public sector: "Oh we can’t do succession planning in the public sector. That’s pre-selection and we can’t do that!"

True. In the public sector, you are forbidden from identifying the one person who will assume a job once the incumbent no longer serves in that role. That is called pre-selection. However, when I say succession planning, I mean assessing your talent’s potential, strengthening your talent pipeline, recruiting in new and innovative ways, creating leaders at all levels, developing employees, and continuously planning your succession. Now, public sector organizations CAN do all those.

In fact, here are five strategies that would lead to expanded succession planning in the public sector:

Radically Embrace Millennials

Millennials are often mislabeled as entitled, lazy, or flaky. However, research now shows that we all have a little "Millennial" in us1. So, when discussing the requirements of radically embracing the millennials, you really are saying "make the work environment more like how employees want to be treated." Focus in on the things we know our workforce needs and demands in 2016. Employees are a lot more likely to integrate work into a 24/7 schedule than ever before. They want flexibility in where and how they work. Employees must feel like they’re making a difference in order to be engaged. They want to feel they’re aligned to the work the organization is doing. Here it becomes critical that public sector organizations clearly articulate their culture and their identity to help potential employees check for alignment. Finally, go recruit employees where they’re job searching. Use jobs sites like LinkedIn, GlassDoor, etc. – fish where the fish are!

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employees, the percentage of college students planning to enter public service declined for the 5th consecutive year, with just 2% planning to enter the public service in 20152. In 2020, the Millennial generation will make up 50% of the workforce and 75% in 2025. To gain the maximum benefit from our increasingly diverse workforce, we must make every employee feel welcome and motivated to work their hardest and rise through the ranks. We must affirm that we work better together because of our differences, not despite them.

Expand Succession Planning

A lot of times, organizations focus their succession planning efforts on only those few select leadership positions that they view are critical to the operations of the organization. This is a miss, and limits the discussions, the development, and the nurturing of the majority of our employees. Development should start once the employee walks in the door. It should continue throughout the employee lifecycle. It should focus on all levels within an organization. Organizations should create occupational advocates who may help, coach, and mentor newer employees in the occupation. Develop and implement competencies for your entire workforce. Employees will know exactly what they need to do to improve performance and gain new opportunities. By expanding succession planning efforts, an organization may more easily, and consistently, identify a pool of talented people.

Go Beyond Formal Leadership Development

The way our employees learn is changing right before our eyes. The days of sending off our leaders to get "trained" are gone. Now, micro-learning is a thing. The ability to deliver short, consumable content at the exact moment it is needed is now an expectation of employees. Create opportunities for employees to learn from each other, to collaborate, and to share information. Organizations must develop career paths that are aligned with organizational needs and future business goals. Link learning activities with competency gaps, ensure employees proactively build necessary skills for current and future business needs, and are in a role best-suited to their skills and passion. Leadership is the top priority among public sector organizations.

Capture Knowledge Now

Knowledge is literally walking out of organizations’ doors. With the much talked-about ’Silver Tsunami’ now occurring, the increase in retirements also increases the loss of knowledge. Creating and implementing strategies to share knowledge of those preparing to retire with those who will be assuming their duties is a critical factor in effective succession planning. Essentially, organizations must decide on how to capture and document individual explicit and tacit knowledge and its dissemination within the organization. Knowing not only WHAT the knowledge is in an organization, but knowing HOW knowledge flows in an organization is important for successful planning strategies.

Implement Unified Talent Management

Getting the big picture of bench strength is impossible when processes are siloed, not done, or done in disparate systems. However, by utilizing a unified talent management approach, agencies can easily connect recruiting, development, performance, collaboration, goals, and compensation—all critical to understanding and building the workforce. By doing so, agencies have deeper insights into what’s driving performance in the organization. Agencies will be able to make smarter, more data-driven decisions.

By employing these five strategies, public sector organizations greatly increase the likelihood of having a well-groomed talent pipeline—all while avoiding pre-selection!


2 National Association of Colleges and Employees Class of 2015 Student Survey

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