Succession Planning Blog Part 2 – Overcoming a Reduction in Workforce with Succession Strategies

By Wendy Myers and Kisha Garcia

This is the second article of two on the topic of Succession Planning. For more information, see Succession Planning Blog Part 1 – Risk Management for your Human Resources by Wendy Myers & Kisha Garcia

This administration’s focus on reducing the size of the Federal workforce – whether through hiring freezes, attrition or reduction in workforce actions – will inevitably affect most Federal agencies. However, the threat of a reduced workforce is not new considering approximately one third of Federal employees become retirement eligible in 2017. The associated loss of talent and institutional knowledge could impact an Agency’s ability to meet mission requirements and demands. It is vital that organizational knowledge is treated as a valuable asset to maintain the quality of services provided to the public.

In response to these new realities, Federal leaders should ask themselves…

  • Can my organization sustain operations without the ability to hire new employees?
  • Do my employees have the skills and knowledge to take on greater responsibilities when called upon?
  • Do I have a pipeline of potential leaders who are able to fill-in when necessary?
  • Are the majority of my leaders and mission critical employees at least five years away from retirement?
  • Are my staff engaged and is my organization at risk for turnover?

If the response to any of the questions is “No”, leaders need to develop succession strategies to retain and develop essential employee talent for operational continuity, ongoing productivity, and organizational leadership tracking.


During a hiring freeze, retention of existing employees becomes paramount and leaders must find ways to influence individuals to remain in their roles. Organizations need to think about things from the employees’ point of view to identify what would encourage them to stay. Leaders can conduct interviews or survey current employees to understand their motivations for working at that agency. They should also conduct exit interviews and review the data to find out why people leave. Additionally, Employee Viewpoint Survey results can provide insights into employee perceptions and areas to improve. This information can help leaders determine the best types of strategies to engage the workforce and improve retention. Potential retention strategies include:

  • Work/life balance programs (e.g., telework, flexible work schedule, etc.);
  • Opportunities for growth (e.g., learning, career advancement, promotion);
  • Recognition/ rewards programs (e.g., awards, performance management); and
  • Efforts to create a positive work environment (e.g., enhanced communications/transparency, effective leadership, teambuilding activities).


Learning and development strategies close organizational competency gaps by preparing individuals to fill key leadership or critical positions. These strategies help ensure a skilled workforce that can pick up new responsibilities when called upon. A key factor in employee development is supervisor support of, and engagement in, the employee’s growth plan. Conducting a training needs assessment and gap analysis to identify growth opportunities and creating development plans that target key learning areas will help prepare eligible employees to compete for new roles. Some development strategies that address gaps include:

  • On-the-job training;
  • Formal training courses;
  • Stretch projects or additional assignments to expand skills;
  • Coaching or mentoring programs; and
  • Detail assignments or shadowing programs.


As employees leave an organization, it is critical to preserve institutional knowledge. In-house technical and operational knowledge ensure continuity of operations despite workforce transitions. Leaders should target high-risk and mission critical positions and programs where there is minimal resource depth, impending retirements or other departures, or limited requirements documentation. Additionally, the workforce needs to understand and buy-into the value of, and participate in, knowledge capture and sharing efforts. Some effective knowledge management strategies include:

  • Create a knowledge management repository for key documents, tools, and templates;
  • Design and implement a knowledge capture process for exiting employees to identify and document information or processes that must be transferred;
  • Identify and document critical position responsibilities and functions and where to relevant find information; and
  • Develop standard operating procedures for functions where consistency and standardization of execution is required.

For open positions where critical skills are needed, that are unfillable from within an organization, OMB and OPM recently published exceptions to the hiring freeze that leaders should explore with their HR department. It is important to note that recruitment is typically a fourth key strategy that should be part of any succession planning effort. However, in light of the hiring freeze, the other three strategies above are paramount. In addition, contractor support may be used meet workload demand.

While reductions in the workforce will pose a challenge across the government, effective succession strategies designed and implemented to engage, retain and develop employees will position the Federal workforce to more efficiently provide outstanding service to the public and meet its mission objectives.

About Suntiva:
Suntiva is a business transformation and technology company located in Falls Church, VA, serving Federal Government agencies. We enable our clients to improve performance through people, process, and technology in significant, measurable, and sustainable ways. We provide mission critical information technology, digital transformation, organizational performance, human capital, and acquisition lifecycle solutions—with great minds and great hearts.