Key Considerations for Government Succession Planning: Part 2

April 1, 2024
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Key Takeaways

  • Creating equitable paths to leadership can help governments attract top talent.
  • Considering both internal and external candidates brings fresh perspectives and promotes diversity of thought and experience within government.
  • Succession plans must be continually evaluated and adjusted based on changing circumstances, programs, services, laws, feedback, and lessons learned from previous transitions.

Ensuring a successful transition of your government’s leadership begins with identifying critical roles and defining succession criteria.

Once key roles and responsibilities have been determined, governments must set about identifying and empowering individuals to succeed in these positions. It is critical to cultivate a pool of talent before the need for a successor arises.

Develop Talent Pipelines

Succession should be considered during hiring and at every step in the HR cycle. All candidates should be made aware of leadership positions that could become available in the future, as well as the resources that exist to prepare them for such roles. This is critical for future-proofing roles that are likely to evolve due to technological advancements.

Having established training, mentoring, and professional development programs in place will help prepare teammates to step into leadership roles in the future. To develop talent pipelines, focus on the following:

Fostering a culture of growth.

Promote internal growth and advancement as a fundamental part of your government’s culture. This can be accomplished by integrating career development conversations into regular one-on-one meetings with employees and providing opportunities to shadow, learn from, and consult with mentors within the organization.

Involving your team.

Ask your employees to document what they do daily and observe the ways their self-reported duties differ from the existing job description for their position. Those job descriptions may be decades old and irrelevant to anyone currently pursuing a career in public service. Updating these descriptions to accurately reflect roles and responsibilities empowers both current and future employees to succeed.

Providing opportunity.

Governments can work with their local public colleges or universities to develop a talent pipeline (including nontraditional hires) and provide scholarship opportunities for existing employees to enhance their skills. For example, you may offer a tuition-free master’s degree program with the provision that the graduate stays with the government for a set number of years after graduation.

Consider Internal and External Candidates

Many organizations prefer to elevate talent from within the organization, and for good reasons. Across occupations and industries, there is strong empirical evidence that internal hires tend to perform highly and are more likely to remain with the organization than external hires.

The highest performing internal hires are especially likely to stay with the organization, while the highest performing external hires are more likely to leave the organization relatively quickly.

Government entities accrue a vast library of institutional knowledge over time, and hiring internally can reduce the time required to train a new leader and prevent the loss of knowledge during transition.

However, it can also be beneficial to consider external candidates with relevant experience and skills. Welcoming external candidates brings fresh perspectives and promotes diversity of thought and experience within government. These are critical for fostering a growth mindset and cultivating a culture that embraces forward-thinking strategies for organizational growth and effectiveness.

Establish Succession Protocols

Beyond what is required by law or as the result of an election, preparing for a leadership transition can present both logistical and emotional challenges. Establishing and documenting clear succession protocols will help ease the transition.

Prior to succession, create a plan for knowledge transfer and a timeline for the handover of responsibilities. Assign accountability for succession-related tasks to relevant personnel, such as human resources and executive leadership. This is essential both for preparing for unexpected transitions and creating equitable access for non-traditional candidates who are unfamiliar with the paths to growth and may not previously have had mentors to guide them.

Once these protocols have been developed, document the plan. Many governments require transition reports from agencies to be filed with a governor or mayoral transition team. Even if not required, a transition document establishes effective internal controls.

A solid transition document should include:

  • Organizational charts
  • Job descriptions
  • Program and service descriptions
  • Roles
  • Responsibilities
  • Locations of mission-critical systems, contracts, and professional contacts.

Evaluate and Adjust

Succession planning is not a “one and done” project — it is an ongoing component of professional development and human resource considerations. Regularly evaluate the effectiveness of the succession plan and adjust as needed based on changing circumstances, programs, services, laws, feedback, and lessons learned from previous transitions.

Succession planning for government entities isn’t just about filling vacant roles; it’s about preserving organizational viability and preparing for a yet unknown future.

Whether or not you anticipate a leadership transition within your government agency any time soon, working with experienced industry professionals to develop a clear succession plan now can make the transition easier on both current and future leaders.

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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.