Succession planning in government: Why is it still relevant?

Nearly ten years ago, we first heard about succession planning in government. In anticipation of massive Baby Boomer retirements, human resource practitioners were advocating for organizations to consider how to manage this impending knowledge drain.

In fact, one study found that only 13 percent of today’s local government managers are under 40, while nearly 71 percent were under 40 in the early 1970s (Henderson, 2008). When the current economic crisis hit, focus shifted from managing the future to managing current resources and dealing with the reduction in revenue streams. This does not mean government doesn’t have an impending crisis; it means we need to rethink succession planning and how it can be managed in a constrained environment. In this article we begin to explore why succession planning is still an issue (and possibly a greater issue than it was ten years ago) and how governments can begin to address the issue without significant financial investment.

Workforce issue in the public sector

The good news is that there are an increasing number of postponed retirements, providing governments a little bit of breathing room for planning purposes. The Center for State and Local Government Excellence (SLGE) reported in a recent survey that 40.2 percent of survey respondents have postponed their retirement plans as a result of The Great Recession (SLGE, 2011). This allows managers to extend their timelines for the development of workforce and succession plans. However, The Great Recession has impacted the capacity of state and local governments to conduct these activities.

In 2009 The International Public Management Association for Human Resources (IPMA-HR) conducted a Benchmarking survey on workforce and succession planning. Only 25 percent of respondents reported having a formal workforce/succession plan in place. Those that did not cited insufficient staff (67 percent) and preoccupation (64 percent) with short-term activities (IPMA – HR, 2009). While the survey has not been updated since 2009, we would argue that even more municipalities have become preoccupied with short-term activities, further diluting the number of jurisdictions undertaking workforce development and succession initiatives.

Complicating the situation is the recent change in the perception of job security in government employment. No formal studies have examined this, but we expect that recent events—the movements to limit bargaining rights of governmental employees, pension reforms, reduced local revenues, an overall compression of the workforce—have further distracted government executives from workforce and succession planning.

In an era of doing more with less, how do HR managers deal with the situation?

Download the complete whitepaper to learn more about succession planning >

In this whitepaper we cover:

  • Why complete succession/workforce planning?
  • Adopting a learn framework for succession planning in government
  • The succession planning toolbox