“Public sector organizations find themselves in a time in which the demand for services has increased, the expectation for quality service is high, and the accountability for results is exceptional. Agencies must be results-driven, citizen-centered, and market-based.”
U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM)

Against the backdrop of this stark reality, the OPM issued a 46-page 2018 Federal Workforce Priorities Report earlier this year. In the report, OPM outlined federal workforce priorities. What’s priority number one? “Succession Planning and Knowledge Transfer.”

With about one in seven federal workers eligible to retire today and federal retirement claims up nearly 16 percent over last year, it’s no surprise that OPM is concerned. That long-anticipated wave of retiring knowledge, skills and talent is about to break. At the same time, fewer young professionals are drawn to government jobs – and fewer higher-level government workers are drawn to the most senior positions. How can government fill those senior spots with qualified people?

Start with Strategic Alignment

High-performing agencies require a clear vision and goals, an understanding of customer and stakeholder needs, and smart, long-term investments in people. For succession planning to work, there’s got to be strategic alignment of human resources – with careful consideration given to agency strategic plans and objectives. A strategy for at least the next three to five years is essential.

With input from executives, managers and incumbents, agency leaders can build effective succession models based on a forecast of future workforce and workload factors. They first identify the knowledge and skills required for agency success, then focus on building a pipeline of qualified employees who are capable of filling leadership positions.

Conduct Competency Gap Analysis

Succession planning to ensure continuity is a multi-year process of identifying and developing personnel for key positions. Though many senior roles may exist today, the skills and knowledge required to lead five years from now may change. The key to ensuring that tomorrow’s talent pool is ready is conducting a competency gap analysis.

For Mission Critical Occupations (MCOs), OPM is equipped to support agencies in identifying core competencies for each key role. Subject matter experts, supervisors and incumbents can review and rate MCO competency lists for importance, frequency and required proficiency. Once competencies and competency models are defined, a competency gap analysis will identify where an agency has the talent it needs and where there are gaps in skills, knowledge and experience.

Results inform recruitment, development and succession planning initiatives.

Recruit, Develop, Engage and Retain Leaders

The demand for highly skilled employees is high as government and corporations compete for the limited talent pool. When a government leader retires and there is no succession plan in place, agencies will frequently hire senior contractors to fill the hole. It’s a short-term solution for a longer-term need.

Some agencies are actively working on succession plans that focus on recruiting new civil servants, developing existing personnel to take on a higher-level role, and retaining employees who are nearing retirement (so there’s time to share their knowledge and skills with their successor). Efforts encompass a mix of policy changes, programs and tactical efforts, including:

  • Mentoring Programs – to help junior employees learn from more senior mentors.
  • Grassroots Marketing – where senior government executives visiting middle schools, high schools and colleges with presentations about their agencies and missions. The service-oriented nature of government jobs could be a good fit for younger generations who are inspired by organizations that make a social impact or give back to the community.
  • Cloud Technology Adoption – so agencies can offer the flexibility to work remotely, securely and efficiently. This represents a big advancement from the confines of outdated technology and an essential move in order to recruit and retain the “digital generations.”
  • Benefit Plan Changes – including the possibility that retirement benefits could stay with employees who leave the federal government before retirement. This change is still being considered, but it’s designed to compete with private sector 401(k) programs to entice skilled professionals who are not ready to commit to a government-only career.
  • Investment in Modern HR Technology – that tracks and manages data about all employees, informing workforce planning and development efforts.

Commit to Digital Support

Earlier this year, new OPM Director Jeff Pon outlined his vision for civil service change, including embracing IT modernization. His goal is to “digitally track an employee’s entire federal career from recruitment and hiring to retirement.” That’s a big goal for a large, siloed organization – knowing that there are many pockets where agencies still process essential employee records with paper.

Over time, such a system could tremendously aid succession planning and personnel development. In the meantime, there are technologies that can advance the OPM vision, helping to translate strategy into action by tracking and managing essential data today.

One example is a competency management system – an invaluable asset for identifying and developing talent at every level of an organization. It’s important to select the right competency management system for government. Just as succession management and workforce development are long-term initiatives, it can take years to collect and track employee and competency data – especially if the system pulls in data from multiple other systems. The system needs to be robust yet flexible to adapt over time.

Yet the payoff is enormous. The right system will scale as a competency management program evolves, providing broad and deep data sets that capture each employee’s skills, experience and competencies. So, when a seasoned executive prepares to retire, the agency has a ready record of what that leader knows and does. And, the agency can quickly identify personnel with required and desired skill sets who may be groomed to step in when the incumbent leaves. When there are skills gaps, the agency will be informed enough to decide whether to recruit personnel who have the right skills and/or develop existing employees.

As the OPM puts it in its 2018 report, “Agencies should maintain a multi-faceted succession plan that is designed to capture the valuable knowledge and insights of current employees, convey captured knowledge to new and retained employees, and create and utilize a multi-generational pipeline.”

Do you want to learn more about how competency management programs and systems can help support your succession management program? Avilar, with our WebMentor Skills system, has robust experience working with government agencies and we’d be happy to share our insights and best practices. Contact us to learn more!

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