Case Study: Henrico County, Virginia: Succession Management: A Developmental Approach

By Holinsworth, Sheryn R. | Public Personnel Management, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Case Study: Henrico County, Virginia: Succession Management: A Developmental Approach


Holinsworth, Sheryn R., Public Personnel Management


Henrico County General Government borders the city of Richmond, Va., to the west, north and east. It constitutes approximately one-third of the Richmond metropolitan area and employs more than 3,900 full-time employees working in more than 30 agencies. Department heads are appointed by the county manager, with the exception of the elected constitutional officers. In 2001, the county achieved recognition as having the lowest overall tax rates of 13 urban cities and counties in Virginia. It was also one of the first counties in the nation to achieve a triple-A rating on water and sewer bonds. The county has always been progressive and consistently innovative, having earned numerous National Association of Counties (NACo) Achievement Awards" through the years.

Henrico County, Va., implemented a succession management initiative to address two concerns: 1) the loss of intellectual capital in key positions as upper managers become eligible to retire in record numbers, and 2) the decreasing number of younger adults in the workforce available to develop the skills necessary to move into higher-level positions. The program consisted of two phases. Phase One taught supervisors how to guide employees through a professional development process using individualized learning plans. Phase Two provided information to upper managers on strategies for developing subordinate managers for the purpose of planning for succession.

In both phases, the individualized learning plan form was offered as a practical developmental tool. It includes sections for identification of strengths, weaknesses, goals and strategies. Supervisors were taught how to guide developmental conversations with their employees.

Upper managers were taught the five steps of an effective succession management program: 1) identifying key positions for succession; 2) identifying competencies of key positions; 3) developing employees; 4) assessing results of development; and 5) evaluating the program. They were given tools for employee development that addressed the unique learning needs of managers.

Using a developmental approach, a learning culture emerged with dramatic evidence that managers were effectively supervising the developmental activities of their employees, and that the managers themselves were involved in activities critical to the possession of the skills necessary to take over higher levels of responsibility.

One important goal of this initiative was to have a pool of internal candidates, organization-wide, who would be competitive in an external recruitment process. The results have been spectacular. In the two years leading up to the implementation of the succession management initiative, only two of seven upper manager positions were filled with internal candidates. During the first two years of this initiative, internal candidates filled all eight upper management position vacancies. This trend continues, with a total of 15 of 16 appointments of internal candidates to upper management county positions since the initiative was introduced.

In November 2003, the county widened the impact of this initiative when middle managers were identified as "key position holders." These middle managers are now beginning the process of knowledge transfer and development of subordinate managers.

The Need for Managing Succession in Henrico County

National statistics tell us that our society is aging. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the population in the age groups of 16-24 and 25-34 will decline over the next decade, while the 55-plus age group will increase dramatically. In the workforce, we are seeing parallel demographics, with the percentage of younger employees decreasing while the percentage of older workers is increasing. In Henrico County, workers age 40 and under represented 44 percent of the workforce in the year 2000, while in 1983 they were the majority with 66 percent.

Retirements in Henrico County continue to climb--76 retirees in 2000 compared with only 46 one decade earlier in 1990. …

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Case Study: Henrico County, Virginia: Succession Management: A Developmental Approach
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