Key Considerations for Government Succession Planning: Part 1

March 29, 2024
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Key Takeaways

  • Succession planning is essential for government agencies to maintain effective internal controls, stability, efficiency, and continued delivery of crucial services to the public.
  • The goal of succession planning is to ensure the continuation of current work, address evolving industry and market demands, and fill gaps that are left after the transition.
  • It is never too early to start planning for transition; failure to do so can result in disrupted operations and eroded public trust.

Having a clear succession plan in place is crucial to the long-term success of any organization. Succession planning minimizes disruptions of operations, fosters a culture of growth and development, and ensures that you have the right people, in the right jobs, at the right time.

For government entities, succession planning is not just best practice, it is imperative. A poorly managed transition can disrupt operations and erode public trust, even if a transition process is contained in law or occurs due to the results of an election.

Don’t Wait to Develop a Plan

A successful transition takes time. To ensure the most seamless transfer of duties, knowledge, and resources, we recommend dedicating no less than a year to the process, and ideally as long as 18 months.

Every office should have an emergency succession plan established for unexpected short- or long-term absences.

Achieving a seamless transition requires meticulous planning and foresight. Here are some key considerations for crafting a successful exit plan in the public sector.

Identify Critical Roles

The first step in succession planning for governments is to identify the critical positions within your government and develop action plans for high-performing and long-tenured individuals to fill those positions.

Consider the roles that most urgently require a successor, including:

  • Positions with a high impact on operations. This includes all supervisory, management, and leadership positions — not just department directors.
  • Positions that require specialized expertise, training, or experience, including public health and environmental specialists.
  • Positions that are vital for continuity of government programs or services, such as a Chief Financial Officer or business manager.
  • Positions with a high talent scarcity, such as information technology (IT) specialists.

Define Succession Criteria

Once you have identified critical roles in your government, identify the skills and expertise required for each of these roles — both now and in the future.

Consider the following:

  • Core competencies required for the role, including both technical and leadership capabilities. The nature of work is changing dramatically; as such, governments must consider how the jobs that are being vacated will be impacted by factors like automation, and what skills will be necessary in future iterations of the role.
  • If hiring internally, employees’ experience level and track record within your government.
  • Alignment of candidates’ professional goals with the long-term vision of your program, service, or agency.
The goal of succession planning is to find someone who can address the evolving demands of the field and fill the gaps that will exist after the current tenure.

What’s Next?

By proactively identifying future leaders and creating equitable paths to leadership, government agencies can ensure continuity, preserve institutional knowledge, and maintain public trust. In the next installment of Key Considerations for Government Succession Planning, you will learn best practices for:

  • Developing talent pipelines.
  • Establishing and documenting succession protocols.
  • Evaluating and adjusting your government’s succession plan.
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About the Author(s)

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Bryn Harari

Bryn brings more than 30 years of experience in Organizational Development, with expertise in Continuous Improvement (CI) and change management. As an executive coach, Bryn has supported business leaders for many years, leaving her well-versed in the challenges they face. With a deep understanding of how systems work and how people learn, she designs and implements strategic planning, continuous improvement, and program evaluation to help businesses reach their objectives expediently and efficiently. Her work fosters enduring and systemic changes that help teams and individuals realize their greatest potential, cultivating mastery, collaborative learning, efficacy, and fulfillment.