Credit: Malcolm Pirnie, Inc.

Development and training are an important part of a public works agency's integrated succession planning program.
  • Image

    Credit: Hy Pomerance

    The succession planning processAn agency's succession plan is an ongoing process that calls for continual evaluation and adaptation.

Build a leadership pipeline by identifying talent with critical competencies from multiple levels. Assess competencies and skill levels of the current workforce and analyzing external sources of talent. This process will make it possible to develop successors for critical functions. Develop strategies for retaining employees and for transferring knowledge and skills down the line of succession. Identify training and development strategies, such as:

  • Formal professional education development
  • Coaching and mentoring
  • Assessment and feedback
  • Process for cross-training
  • Job shadowing
  • Career paths.
  • Step 4: Implement succession planning strategies. If representatives from all stakeholder groups have been involved since the outset, implementing the model will be relatively straightforward. Working together, this core group can identify barriers to successful implementation and create strategies to overcome these challenges. In addition, if they have helped prepare the organization for change since the beginning of the process, developing an internal communication plan to ensure organization-wide buy-in will be merely a formality.

    Step 5: Continuously measure, evaluate, and adapt. While this is identified as the final step of the process, these activities should occur throughout the succession planning program. Capturing stakeholder feedback on strategy effectiveness and making appropriate adjustments will be critical to maintaining employee support. By tracking progress and communicating and celebrating program successes, you can keep top management engaged and ensure that succession plans become a standard part of the organization's strategic planning process.


    Before a public agency can implement a succession plan, it is necessary to define the role of labor and civil service organizations. Public agencies should examine how succession planning will be received by leaders of such groups. Succession planning can create an environment of changing career opportunities and professional growth, and therefore can also sabotage labor management negotiations/relations. Because labor is focused on protecting jobs, and their members' security, succession planning causes a natural tension between these two groups.

    Public agencies that embrace labor and civil service groups in succession planning and management are more likely to succeed. These groups should be active partners in the effort to integrate three key activities under one strategy:

  • Approaches to recruitment and selection
  • Approaches to development and training
  • Approaches to retention, including incentives and rewards.
  • By talking about the interrelationship of these activities, the agency creates an “employer-of-choice/employee-of-choice” dynamic. Succession planning can become the key strategy that ensures a model of sustainability for the community.

    — Rebecca Dybas is senior consultant and Hy Pomerance, PsyD, is principal consultant with Red Oak Consulting, White Plains, N.Y.

    The changing population pyramid

    According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the face country's workforce is changing significantly. Several observations can be made regarding this demographic trend:

  • The large number of baby boomers in the workforce are reaching retirement age and will leave the workforce
  • The sheer number of replacement workers is smaller
  • There is a shift in the gender makeup of the population
  • The population is growing older.
  • The workforce changes implicit in the new population pyramid require consideration in supporting the new workforce. Four distinct generations comprise this pyramid. It is important to understand the cultural values of the different age classes in today's workforce.

    There are dramatic changes in how the boomers view life as compared to Generation X (1964–1980), Generation Y (1980–2000), and now the Millennials. According to Zemke, Raines, and Filipszak in their recent research paper, “Generations at Work,” baby boomers value teamwork and optimism. Generation X places a premium on self-reliance, diversity, and technological literacy. Generation Y focuses on sociability, achievement, and civic duty. The Millennials are predicted to concern themselves with being “free-agents” who are searching for a sense of belonging but will likely move from employer to employer until they find what they're looking for.