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How to build the leadership bench

Nearly two-thirds of the Senior Executive Service will be eligible for retirement in the next five years. Those retirements will leaving a huge leadership gap for agencies.

McKinsey and the Partnership for Public Service have teamed up to look at the SES problem. They’ve published their findings in a new report, Building the Leadership Bench. Nora Gardner is a partner at McKinsey and their federal government human capital expert.

She told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that this leadership gap will be a huge problem if the government doesn’t address the issue now.

“It takes years to develop a leader. Therefore agencies need to develop a strategic and comprehensive approach to leadership development. Agencies need to start planning and forecasting their needs before they happen. It also requires a sustained effort overtime,” said Gardner.

McKinsey and PPS talked to more than 22 agencies to suss out best practices.

Pocket of excellence: Veterans Affairs

“The VA has done a few things right to really improve the SES at their agency,” said Gardner.

  • There is a high level of senior commitments to executive development. They have established an office at looks at SES issues.
  • They have simplified the recruiting and selecting process for SES. They are one of the first agencies to go to fully resume based hiring.
  • They have revised their technical qualifications to open up positions to make them more generally applicable.

“What this does is allow for more external candidates to apply for the positions. This whole system puts more visibility on aspiring executives from a senior perspective,” said Gardner.

And it’s working:

  • Over the last year the VA has moved from about 80% of their SES positions filled to 94%, by really focusing on the issue.
  • About 30% of those new hires were from external sources. Which is something that showcases the fluidity of the SES.

SES Mobility

The original idea behind the SES was to have senior exec move around the government, to different agencies and roles. But that is rarely the case now. “The rationale behind the mobility is that the complexity of the challenges the government is facing are impossible for a single agency or leader to solve without a broader more enterprise wide perspective. Therefore it is essential that leaders throughout their development get exposure to different sectors, build their networks and learn different ways of working,” said Gardner.

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