Urgent Need for Succession Planning

ARTICLE | Jul 31, 2012

Did you know that depending on location, between 30 percent and 40 percent of state and local government employees are eligible to retire?

Record attendance at the July 26 web conference on succession planning underscored the urgent need for local governments to plan for vacancies in key leadership positions primarily held by baby boomers.

Rollie Waters, founder and president of Waters Consulting (an ICMA Strategic Partner) and Sheryl Sculley, city manager of San Antonio,  Texas, delivered an engaging 90-minute presentation on the state of succession planning and best practices in San Antonio.

Waters opened the presentation with a look at the state of the local government workforce. He shared that since 2000, 31 states have passed laws that expand the range of workers who can retire when they turn 50 or 55 or after working 20 or 25 years.

The new laws have had an astounding impact on the workforce. In 2011, Oregon and New Jersey realized an increase of roughly 50 percent in public sector employee retirements over 2010. These retirements, as Waters explained, were not due to age; many of the retirees were still young enough to remain in the workforce, but faced salary cuts or a reduction in their retirement packages if they continued working.

The early retirement pull, however, has an opposing force: the economic downturn. Waters cited 42% of those questioned said that they would delay their expected exit due to the downturn in the economy – delaying the retirement wave a bit more. But the wave is still coming and the need for succession planning is real.

To demonstrate what succession planning looks like in practice, Sheryl Sculley tapped into her expertise as a city manager of the nation's 7th largest city. San Antonio's extensive succession planning initiative includes three training programs for executives, mid-level managers, and front-line supervisors. The initiative also focuses on cross-departmental communication, knowledge transfer, improved hiring practices, and internship programs to develop the next generation of managers.

Sculley emphasized that the tenets of succession planning, with its heightened focus on improving skills, communication, and cross-training, are good for the overall health of any organization.

Concluding the web conference, Waters shared results from a survey on succession planning originally conducted in 2007 and recently updated for the event. One of the preliminary findings of the survey indicates a low level of overall confidence in the succession planning process with less than half of respondents feeling that succession planning was being handled well in their organization. The survey is still open and can be taken here.

A web conference CD-ROM or online streaming of the event is available here

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