Succession Planning Blog Part 1 – Risk Management for your Human Resources

By Wendy Myers and Kisha Garcia

This is the first article of two on the topic of Succession Planning.

Imagine these scenarios…

  • …You look at your workforce demographics and realize that 2/3 of your technical experts are at or soon to be at retirement age and you have no idea what their plans are for a continued career at your organization.
  • …Your three top performers in the organization decide it is time to move on to try a career in the private sector and you are left with a big vacancy in your leadership pipeline.
  • …You just found out that a long-time employee who is the exclusive source of key subject matter expertise in a mission critical function is sick and taking an indefinite leave of absence.
  • …Due to recent regulatory changes, your organization’s mission is going to change over the next three years and a whole new set of skills will be needed to accomplish the organization’s objectives.

These scenarios may sound drastic, but they are real challenges federal government organizations can face at any point in time and the data is out there to support it.  Take a look:

  • GAO reported in 2014, that over one third of the federal workforce will be eligible to retire in 2017.
  • A June 2016 report from the Partnership for Public Service indicated that half of the 7,000 Senior Executive Service (SES) members are currently eligible to retire and roughly 85% will be eligible within the next 10 years.
  • That same report highlighted that only 55% of GS 14 or 15 employees have an interest in SES or other senior level positions.

The “retirement tsunami” predicted back in 2010/2011 has not yet hit the federal workforce largely due to the financial crisis in 2008 which caused retirement eligible employees to stay in the workforce longer to rebuild their nest eggs.  However, the economic rebound, coupled with continued reports across the government of low agency morale, lack of pay increases, and a strong mismatch in work expectations between seasoned employees and younger generations such as millennials, will undoubtedly cause agencies to begin to see the retention trends in recent years shift.

When this happens, federal government organizations could be at risk for any or all of the following:

  • Inability to meet short and/or long-term mission objectives
  • Lack of internal talent capable of stepping into key leadership roles
  • A workforce without the necessary skills to meet future requirements
  • Loss of key institutional and technical knowledge about the organization
  • Lack of continuity in customer/client service

Many organization leaders ask themselves how they can proactively seek to minimize the risks noted above.

The answer is – SUCCESSION PLANNING.  Succession Planning is risk management for your human resources.

Business defines risk management as the identification, analysis, assessment, control, and avoidance, minimization, or elimination of unacceptable risks.

This is exactly what succession planning is – the identification, analysis, and assessment of current and future human resource requirements to ensure the organization controls, avoids, minimizes or eliminates the risks associated with not having the right people, with the right skills, at the right time to accomplish the organization’s mission and ensure continuity of operations.

Applying this risk management definition to succession planning, below are key questions that agency program leaders and human capital professionals should ask themselves as they begin their succession planning process:

Identify the risks:

  • What are the organization’s current and future mission objectives?
  • What critical roles are necessary to execute the mission (now and in the future)?
  • What knowledge, skills and abilities (competencies) are required to fulfill current and future mission requirements?

Assess and analyze the risks:

  • What are the current workforce demographics (key leaders and staff retirement eligibility; career ladders of key employees; eligibility of current staff to complete for key positions)?
  • What is the proficiency of the current workforce in the knowledge, skills and competencies required?
  • What is the potential and interest of the current workforce to assume mission-critical roles in the future?

Control, avoid, minimize or eliminate the risks:

  • What development strategies can be put in place to close the gap between the knowledge, skills and experience of the current workforce and the leadership and technical competency requirements for the future?
  • Are there programs or incentives you can take advantage of to entice current key staff to stay longer so you can focus on hiring and transferring knowledge to replacements?
  • What knowledge must be maintained and what is the best way to transfer mission-critical knowledge within the organization?
  • What are the most effective strategies to identify and bring on board new employees with the mission- critical skills needed to accomplish your future mission objectives?

The human resource risks associated with changing organization goals and objectives, vacancies left by retiring or departing employees, loss of key institutional or technical knowledge or lack of leadership continuity can be managed through strategic and deliberate succession planning.

About Suntiva:

Suntiva is a business transformation and technology company located in Falls Church, VA, serving 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.