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Effective succession planning within the Public Sector

Formulating a watertight succession plan has never been more crucial for government organisations. Younger generations are swooping into the workforce at great capacity, with research stating by 2030, millennials will take up 75% of the workforce. The ability to attract this new surge of young, fresh talent with new and innovative ideas, is therefore crucial to the growth of public sector organisations. Therefore, in essence, succession planning is planning for and executing smooth transitions of key leadership positions. But what strategies can be implemented to ensure the best plans, and more importantly the right people, are in place?

Organisations that have successful succession plans in place often cultivate a culture of continuous improvement, be it through internal employees or recruiting the best talent available. Once a core foundation of employees have been created, successful organisations aim to develop their workforce skills and knowledge, whilst embedding or cultivating the right culture and mind-set. As this expertise is sharpened in preparation for leadership roles, in the event of organisational growth or leadership changes, key employees are able to transition into these high-level roles seamlessly. There are however a number of steps and considerations public sector leaders need to make in order to reach this position of preparation. There are several factors which contribute to effective succession planning; however, I have chosen to focus on three key points below:

Understand the function and value of the role

In many cases succession planning is a reactive strategy undertaken after a high level of turnover, arguably more so within the public sector. Notwithstanding, leaders should adopt a prudent, best practice approach to proactively engaging best talent available on the market and groom these individuals into leadership roles. However, before building any strategic process, it is imperative for the organisation to fully understand the role and value of each position within its structure.

“Before companies can start thinking about their succession plan, they have to understand their jobs”

– Sharlyn Lauby

Some would argue that this exercise was common sense and a prerequisite, although unfortunately within government organisations, there is a constant periodical form of restructuring or reshaping of departments, often lead from the top down. If the right amount of effort and decision making was made upfront to discern the rationale behind each role (function and value), that particular position will have more of a lasting presence within the organisation. Once an organisation has a clear understanding of that particular role and can determine the need for its longevity, in light of budget constraints and adoption of new technologies, only then should they invest time and energy into developing a strategic succession plan.

Become flexible rather than linear

Public sector organisations often adopt a linear process when recruitment is on the agenda, i.e. your managers job is the job you work towards and so forth. However, mobility is key to a successful succession plan.

Lateral moves from one public sector organisation into another is a good method of finding talent that leaders may think is unattainable. There could be a number of potential key candidates within other public organisations, who are not ready to retire or change industries, but consider themselves at a stumbling block in terms of progression.

This same non-linear approach should be undertaken internally. Rather than a pre-selected shortlist of the most obvious candidates for a role, opening up a vacancy to everyone can unearth potential successors who otherwise would not be considered. The main consideration for public sector leaders here is to upskill the most suitable talent whilst keeping an open mindset towards other candidates who have potential. Upskill being the most important word in this instance.

Have an impact and making a difference

As millennials flood the workplace, it is crucial to pinpoint their drivers to attract the best up and coming talent available on the market. Studies suggest one of millennials’ key motivations when considering an employer is whether they have a social purpose. A study by the Alliance to Transform State Government Operations further states “there is much to suggest that [members of Generation X] and millennials have a strong predisposition for mission, but government isn’t tapping into it.”

Whilst private sector organisations may be able to offer employees other benefits such as free parking or a more generous holiday allowance, public sector organisations can provide a fundamental sense of moral purpose and passion that millennials crave when deciding upon which career path to follow – having an impact and making a tangible difference.

Another way to inject millennials into public sector roles is by modernising technology. It is no secret that public sector organisations require an overhaul to improve their legacy systems and integrate more advanced private sector technology. For example, a study found that in 2017, only 13% of public sector technology budgets were allocated to legacy modernisation. A key driving force for millennials is to work with the latest technology according to a recent article, and as such could be seen as a prerequisite to hiring the best young talent around.

A successful succession plan should therefore market its opportunities towards millennials and encourage their applications through an environment that is appealing to this latest generation of the workforce.

Need some guidance on how to successfully create and embed an effective succession plan in your organisation, please do get in touch.

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Guthrie Holliday
Guthrie Holliday

Director