Succession Planning in Local Government

This guide highlights the key steps for leaders at all levels involved in succession planning and tasked with effective forward planning in regard to staff development.  Interestingly, many local councils shy away from succession planning for fear of being seen to cut across merit-based recruitment mandates.  This needn’t be the case however as succession planning should be viewed more as a risk management exercise than a process of ‘promising’ individuals a future role with the organisation.  By investing in people your organisation benefits from improved bench strength and greater employee engagement, a win-win for employers and employees alike.

Our recommended approach to succession planning has been developed with several typical objectives in mind.  Ensuring your organisation is sustainable in meeting community and customer demands is the most compelling reason for an organisation to undertake succession planning with the required investment of both time and money clearly aligned to strategic imperatives.

In addition, a good succession planning process will help identify and address any capability gaps/risks across the organisation, aid retention of your best performers and those with high potential as well as ensure there is a plan in place to develop the capabilities are in place to meet future needs.  Beyond succession planning, you can read more about our approaches to workforce management strategies and workforce planning by clicking on the button to the right.

Organisation Design and Workforce Management Strategies

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5-Steps to Effective Succession Planning

This guide steps through our 5-step succession planning process covering the activities listed below.  To support the process we recommend creating a set of templates for your leaders to complete and you can contact us to discuss the ways in which we’ve supported clients in implementing their succession planning processes.  The 5 steps in our recommended approach include;

  • Identifying critical leadership and operational roles
  • Clarifying the key skills, experience and capabilities required to be successful
  • Nominating individuals with the potential to fulfil critical roles in the future
  • Assessing the development needs of potential successors and establishing clear development plans
  • Measuring and monitoring the success of our succession planning framework

Identifying Critical Roles

The first objective in your succession planning framework should be to create a register of the roles across the organisation that have a major impact on leadership and/or operational performance.

It is important to take a considered and consistent approach when assessing roles in order to ensure you are able to focus time and investment in the areas that will have the greatest impact as well as managing the organisation’s more critical resourcing risks.

You may find it helpful to create a role classification template to drive consistency as well as determine who in the organisation is best place to complete the process (for example, Directors and Senior Managers may be invited to complete the process for their functions).

The role classification process works well when leaders list all roles that directly report to them as well as any indirect reports (if they do not have a subordinate leader also completing the process).  Each role should then be assessed using your pre-established criteria to establish the priority roles that will then be subject to the creation of a robust succession plan.

Clarifying Role Profiles

The second step in our recommended succession planning process is to establish clear role profiles for each of the most critical positions identified previously.  At this stage of the process, your leaders will be looking to define the qualifications, skills and experience required for success in the roles identified for succession planning.  It is vital to consider both current and future needs as far as possible to ensure your planning and development processes will help ensure the organisation is well prepared to address future resourcing needs.  Some of the important inputs and information to consider when building your role profiles includes:

  • Use existing job descriptions to list position criteria (e.g., education required, skills needed)
  • Consider skills commonly needed for success based on your own experience
  • Try to anticipate future requirements such as skills relating to emerging technologies or ways of working
  • Specific characteristics needed for the role, such as emotional intelligence or other important personal characteristics

Identifying Potential Successors

The role profiles developed at step 2 provide the basis for identifying candidates for specific attention under the succession planning framework.  For each of the roles that you’ve developed a profile for your leaders can now establish a list of potential successors based on their knowledge of people within the organisation.  We suggest that ideally, all critical roles should have at least 3 potential successors identified to help guard against unexpected turnover or other circumstances that might prevent an individual from reaching their potential with your organisation.

In order for your planning process to be as effective as possible, we recommend facilitating an annual ‘Succession Planning Roundtable’ where all leaders involved in the process can be tasked with working through the list of potential successors together.  Prior to attending the session, your HR team might circulate a list of all the roles identified for attention and for which a role profile has been developed.  In addition to identifying potential successors for their own roles, leaders may also be able to identify potential successors for other roles in the organisation and/or identify opportunities for high potential individuals within their teams.  At the end of the roundtable process, your HR team should collate and maintain a central record of all nominated successors as a basis for tracking progress and success in regard to filling critical roles with internal candidates when the time comes to replace the current incumbent.

It will be evident already that the success of the process is going to be heavily reliant on the ability of your people leaders to embrace the process and develop a deep knowledge of the potential and aspirations of the people in their teams and across the organisation.  Fostering an effective leadership culture can be challenging and you can read more about how we help clients establish a comprehensive leadership framework by clicking below.

Developing Your Talent

The real magic in your succession planning effort is to identify and support employees who are suitable for, or actively looking for, advancement within their careers.  We believe that this objective is best supported by first gaining a good understanding of their individual career objectives and then considering the development activities that might support them in this regard.

For each of the people identified as potential successors, your leaders will need to take the time to discuss and consider their personal career aspirations and establish a personal development plan.  To assist in creating effective development plans, we suggest keeping the following principles in mind:

  • The key to effective development lies in program participants actively identifying and undertaking targeted development opportunities.
  • Research from the Centre for Creative Leadership identified that 70% of most effective learning is achieved through experiential development activities, 20% through social learning/learning through others with only 10% of effective learning actually achieved through formal, classroom-type, and education programs.
  • A further key to successful development is for activities to be well defined and structured with clearly articulated objectives

It is essential that you actively monitor and support each individual’s progress against their development plans and help ensure the plans remain valid and appropriate throughout their journey towards fulfilling their potential.

When considering development planning for future leaders (as opposed to successors for key operational roles) it can be helpful to add an element of objectivity by utilising formal leadership/personality profiling assessments.  These types of assessments do not take the place of the candidate’s history and experience but can add an objective point of reference and self-awareness for the individual to explore when creating their development plans.

Measuring Your Progress

By tracking some key performance indicators and regularly sharing the results with key stakeholders you will be able to monitor the success of your succession planning framework and, where necessary, implement improvements when required.  Consider creating a succession planning scorecard as a way of reporting progress the executive team with the following principles in mind:

  • Recognising that leadership and successor development is a long-term investment
  • Bench strength – each business unit is responsible for ensuring effective succession plans are in place
  • Smooth transitions – demonstrating your ability to fill key jobs with internal candidates rather than outside hires
  • Retention – highlighting how your best performers and those with high potential are remaining with the organisations

Beyond Succession Planning

There’s no doubt that enrolment in a structured succession planning process can assist in engaging and retaining your best performers.  That said, driving high levels of employee engagement requires an ongoing commitment to offering a great employee experience.  You can find out more about our recommendations for conducting employee opinion surveys here as an excellent starting point in considering where to focus your attention.

If you think your organisation is ready however why not get in touch with our team to discuss participation in our employers of choice program and take the first steps towards getting your organisation the recognition you deserve for your commitment to maintaining and world-class employee experience.

Developing the tools to support effective succession planning can be a headache – we’re here to help.

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