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Succession management

Developing the next generation of federal leaders

Decreasing federal employee engagement, coupled with the anticipated retirement wave of Baby Boomer leaders, can call for federal agencies to implement strong succession management strategies that are integrated with their mission and other talent management processes. A strong succession management strategy can help federal agencies maintain continuity of critical operations and knowledge transfer during leadership changes.

Why succession management?

Succession management is the process by which organizations identify candidates early on and develop them to fill leadership roles. Effective succession management can provide organizations with an improved ability to maintain continuity of operations during leadership transitions with minimal disruption, delivering benefits to both individual employees by preparing them to be strong leaders, as well as to organizations by facilitating smooth leadership transitions.

Principles of effective succession management

​The following four principles can guide the implementation of effective succession management programs:

Lead from the top
Senior leaders across the organization, including specific members of the executive team, as well as the HR department, need to be personally involved during the lifecycle of a succession management strategy, from planning to execution and monitoring. Senior leaders provide perspectives from their own experience and business insights that are important in identifying future leaders. The succession management strategy should determine how the organization will encourage high visibility of senior leaders’ buy-in and commitment for growing future leaders. In addition, organizations should consider strategies to work with current leaders who may be resistant to succession management efforts, possibly due to shortage of resources to develop employees (e.g., budget and time).

Integrate with talent strategy
Effective succession management practices cannot be developed in siloes as stand-alone HR programs, but need to be integrated within an agency’s wider talent management strategy to align with workforce planning, skills gap assessments, hiring, learning and development, performance management, engagement, and retention strategies. For instance, a strong succession management process may include regular assessments of the workforce to identify the size of the leadership pipeline, potential critical skills gaps, performance management metrics for emerging leaders, and diversified development opportunities to include: job assignments, on the-job coaching, training sessions, mentoring, self-study, job shadowing, and task force assignments for future leaders.

Leverage data and analytics
In order to determine succession management strategies, federal agencies should consider deploying workforce analytics to review data about attrition, performance, and skills gap assessment. Predictive analytics can help identify potential leadership vacancies before they happen, as well as potential eligible employees to be included in the leadership pipeline. Additionally, organizations may consider analyzing how projected changes in an agency’s mission requirements or changes in technology or other external trends may influence the scope of future leadership competencies.

Execute and evaluate continuously
Succession management is an ongoing effort rather than a one-time effort. Federal agencies should consider a plan to manage successors periodically to determine relevance for current and future organizational priorities. The succession management strategy should be flexible enough to be refined and adjusted to accommodate changes in the market, organization, or people.

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