This is the first part of a three part series on succession planning in public safety departments. Part 1 focuses on the organizational review and design of a succession planning process. Part 2 will focus on how selection systems play a part in succession planning and Part 3 will focus on implementation and maintenance.
Succession Planning is one of those tools that is talked about a lot and considered fashionable by most, but unfortunately, implemented by very few organizations. That in and of itself suggests that there are challenges in implementing and utilizing an effective succession plan. Essentially, succession planning is a systematic process of identifying the future talent needs of an organization and taking the appropriate and necessary steps to ensure that there is an internal applicant pool available to fill the vacancies created by the loss of talent.
From that simple view of the process, it can be seen that there are a number of critical components to designing, implementing and maintaining a viable succession plan. It is important to recognize too that the implementation portion of the plan includes the critical component of selecting participants. Through many years of experience in designing oral boards for employee selection, I had the opportunity to work with hundreds of subject matter experts that were typically managers and supervisors in the career area or job family for which the test was being designed, typically police and corrections sergeants, lieutenants and captains. It was common for those managers to skip the critical foundational design components of an oral board and jump directly to writing questions. My observations in the succession planning process indicates that a similar phenomenon occurs among managers who are eager to start naming participants for the program or listing positions they don’t believe they can accomplish their missions without rather than focusing on developing the program. In both instances, skipping the basics that form the fundamentals for a successful oral board or a successful succession program leaves the process without a foundation.
In establishing the foundation for the program it is also critical to recognize inherent differences that must be considered in succession plans developed for private versus public sector. Typically, public sector employers are more constrained by civil service rules, contracts, local laws and ordinances as well as federal laws and court decisions than are private sector employers. So, important components in the design phase of a succession plan in the public sector must include a survey of all such documents that could impact the program. Further, public safety organizations tend to have some of the most rigid and complex rules governing personnel actions and therefore, represent their own set of unique challenges when attempting to establish a succession plan.
While public safety organizations may have inherent similarities, there are no two that are exactly alike and that suggests that no two succession plans can be exactly alike. That is why the focus needs to be on the process of developing a plan and the tools that can be used to assist in that process rather than a line by line boiler plate set of instructions on how to create the perfect succession plan. However; reviewing succession plans from a number of other agencies can be a valuable tool in creating your own unique plan, particularly since reviewing several plans will provide a bigger picture of the process and may include ideas that you will find useful and want to include in your own plan.
In the Design Phase, it is important for agencies to do a significant amount of ground work. As mentioned previously, this should include a review of civil service rules, contracts, and federal and state laws that impact personnel practices. In that regard, it is also important to evaluate the organizational climate and determine what or who the driving force is behind the development of the plan, who supports it and who doesn’t and the financial impact involved in designing, implementing and maintaining the program. If the impetus for the program is not coming from top management, part of the development phase will be sure to get them on board; similarly, if Human Resources has not been assigned to develop and implement the plan, they will need to be brought on board as well. One of the most effective ways of enlisting the support of top management and the cooperation of the HR Unit is to develop a statement of the problem that clearly demonstrates the need for a succession in plan. In the “Succession Planning Program,” developed by Ken Goodly for the State of Nevada, in addition to identifying needs specific to the State, Ken, also included national trends that impact most organizations. These included statistics that indicate retirement rates are increasing due to the aging of theUS population and a declining labor pool due to the aging of the work force and significant drops in birth rates that started in the 1980’s.
These points establish a basic need for succession planning within most organizations, but a true statement of the problem and the needs has to focus on agency specific issues. In agencies I have worked with, I have noticed growth spurts that have resulted in both larger than average numbers being hired at a particular point in time as well as an unusual number of new positions, in the upper ranks, being created at a particular point in time. Both of these facts taken together can suggest that there will be a point in time when a larger than average exodus occurs and there are more vacancies in management level positions than the usual pipeline can fill. Information like this needs to be taken into consideration and included in the statement of need for the organization creating the plan.
Once the need is identified, the organization’s long-term goals and objectives need to be evaluated to determine the goals and objectives for the succession plan which should support the organization’s goals and objectives. At this point, a current picture of the state of the organization needs to be developed also. Lots of questions need to asked and answered such as, “How effective is the organization currently?” “Are goals and objectives being met? And why or why not?” “How effective is current staff in performing their duties?” “Who are the successful managers and leaders and who are not?” “What is being done about these issues?” “What do our organizational training programs look like?” “What is the state of our Organizational and Educational Development Program and how effective is it?” “What are we doing to attract and retain employees?”
Once the critical questions have been asked and the answers have been evaluated, the plan starts to take form because the plan, out of necessity, represents the proposed solutions to the problems identified in the organizational review process. Remember, succession planning is a process that provides a systematic assessment of organizational staffing needs and the actions necessary to address and reconcile those needs. Comprehensive and effective programs include demographic information regarding incumbents and applicant pools, analyses of trends, analyses of staffing gaps and identification of planned actions. Assessment of the current and future human capital requirements will identify and provide responses to the needs of the organization in the future.
The objective of the succession plan is to ensure the organization and therefore all sub units of the organization begin to or continue to operate effectively when individuals occupying positions that have been identified as critical leave the organization. The review and design process provides the framework for making strategic staffing decisions based on your organization’s mission, vision, strategic plan, and goals taking into consideration budgetary issues and restraints. Succession planning is intended to be a proactive, organized, methodical, effective, and integral part of addressing entry level hiring and promotional needs as opposed to a process of simply placing bodies in vacant slots.
This being the case, it cannot be overemphasized that recruitment, selection and retention, are critical aspects of any succession plan and give rise to perhaps the most critical aspects of the plan which boil down to who participates and how do you get them to where you need them to go.