Succession Planning For the SES and IT Workforce

As a component of workforce planning, succession planning helps agencies identify and develop internal employees to fill leadership roles, as they become available through retirement. The American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC) recently requested the examination of the federal government’s succession planning practices.

Bob Clarke, the lead on the Federal Succession Planning Program from ACT-IAC, spoke with Chris Dorobek of the DorobekINSIDER about the recently published report, Bridging the Gap in Federal Succession Planning. As he explains to Dorobek, the examination resulted in several realizations about succession planning in the federal government, namely that current efforts need to be dramatically improved.

As Clark discussed with Dorobek, agency succession plans are partial, poor, and not robust enough for the future. He elaborated, “Those specific statistics were that 55 percent said their succession plans were poorly developed or non-existent, and 45 percent said partially – so as you say, all of them were in the not sufficient range.” This lack of preparation needs to be addressed to ensure that the next generation of government leaders are prepared to be successful.

Clarke was also quick to mention, however, “there are examples where succession planning is working well. […] We met with NASA, with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and with the Department of Commerce and we certainly found some good things and good practices that are highlighted in the report.”

Specifically, Clarke stated that agencies doing it well “have a seat at the agency leadership table, so that as new initiatives are being discussed, they are immediately connecting what the workforce development requirements are to support those initiatives.” Throughout the report, senior leadership buy-in is noted as a key differentiator of successful agencies.

Clarke also mentions that the Department of Commerce and NASA, in particular, are effective in evaluating the talent they will need in the future and then “skating where the puck will be”. This is the kind of forward-looking workforce planning strategy that government agency leaders need to develop.

For a first step toward better planning, getting the whole department on board is critical. Clarke said that one of the most surprising findings from the report was that many of the workers did not know about their agency’s succession plan. The plans were not tied to the operations side, and in some cases the operations side had created their own plans independent from human resources. This misalignment resulted in duplicative efforts, and zero coordination.

In the future, the report also recommended to the Office of Personnel Management that they create a forum for discussing succession strategies. Additionally, the report suggests a virtual conference be held for workforce planning in the future. As a key takeaway, Clarke highlighted the bottom line for succession planning – “Well-executed programs will help agencies better achieve their mission.”

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