Self-Leadership as a Tool in Management Succession Planning: Planned Research Could Prove Valuable in Meeting the Challenges of Succession Planning and Management

By Hardy, Karen | The Public Manager, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Self-Leadership as a Tool in Management Succession Planning: Planned Research Could Prove Valuable in Meeting the Challenges of Succession Planning and Management


Hardy, Karen, The Public Manager


Succession planning and management (SPM) is a deliberate and systemic effort by an organization to ensure leadership continuity in key positions, retain and develop intellectual and knowledge capital for the future, and encourage individual advancement. However, the need to extend the definition of SPM beyond the management ranks is becoming more important, as organizations take active steps to build high-performance and high-involvement work environments.

Even so, the federal government is facing multiple challenges in SPM in that a significant number of federal employees are currently eligible for regular retirement. Also, 40 to 50 percent of the civilian workforce is eligible for early retirement, and more will become eligible within the next 5 years. This early wave of retiring boomers is the "quiet crisis of succession."

Success Can Depend on Succession

Yet, despite this crisis, organizations are slow to establish succession planning efforts. In the May 2, 2004, Washington Post article "Success can depend on succession," only 40 percent of all companies were identified as having a succession plan in place. In a 2001 report, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) cited that only four of the twenty agencies surveyed by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) had formal internal leadership development programs that prepare employees to become first-level supervisors. Despite this dismal figure, many government agencies have since risen to the occasion. It is reported that 92 percent of the agencies now have strategies for developing future leaders. As organizations continue to face this challenge, it is easy to understand why succession planning is now considered an important component of an organization's human resources and strategic planning process.

Compared with human resources planning--which deals with technical, general skill, and competency needs at all levels of the organization for key occupations--succession planning is more concerned with leadership readiness. And leadership readiness is all about whether the workforce has employees at all levels ready to lead in the generations to come.

Private-Sector Experience

Organizations in the private industry, such as Proctor & Gamble, have been credited with having one of the best management succession plans in place. The company has done such a remarkable job at management succession that employee talent has been described as being "stacked like cordwood in every job and at every level." Could this be said of the federal government? This level of leadership readiness is of great concern for government agencies facing a reduction in workforce and must be addressed with succession plans that go beyond the placement of people in vacant positions. Effective succession planning must include creating organizations with a ready pool of capable leaders now and in the future.

When the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of McDonald's passed away suddenly in 2004, the corporation was immediately able to name a successor without any interim delay. Such a quick move was evidence that the successor, Charles H. Bell, was groomed for the position and ready to step in. Experts have noted that this approach is typical in the private sector, where succession planning is a little easier to do than in the public sector. Organizations in private industry have the flexibility of identifying employees who have the ability to move into a more senior role and begin training them immediately. Management is usually proactive in the employees' career development as an effort to make them ready for a new opportunity. This approach is in stark contrast to the level of involvement public-sector managers have in developing government employees.

Federal Leadership Development

The findings of a 1995 MSPB study on training in the federal government noted a number of problems with the way supervisors handle training decisions. …

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