This is the next in a series of articles exploring the issues and opportunities in the realm of ‘Continuous Improvement and Organizational Excellence.’ This article focuses on the role of succession planning—in both private sector companies and public sector institutions—as a part of organizational excellence.
Succession planning, for the purposes of this article, is the process whereby an organization ensures that employees—especially “key employees”—are recruited, developed, retained and, most importantly, replaced within the organization to ensure its operational continuity.
The term “key employee” is a formal concept that is defined differently for each of the two sectors and you are encouraged to consult your accountant or attorney (or the internet) for the definition which applies to your type of organization.
For purposes of this article, Investopedia.com’s definition is used: “An employee with a major ownership of and/or decision-making role in an organization and who may also receive special benefits as an incentive both to join the organization and to stay with it.”
Through the succession planning process, superior employees are recruited and their knowledge, skills and abilities should be developed. They are prepared for advancement or promotion into ever more challenging roles, preferably within that organization. However, an oft-overlooked output of succession planning is the need for these same employees to create a plan for turning the reins over to their successor, should their position, for whatever reason (including retirement), become vacant. This is the type of succession planning addressed in this article.
Like any process, succession planning should be comprised of a set of strategically-aligned inputs, tools/techniques and outputs. Here is a bulleted list of each of these components:
- Organizational Strategic Plan (mission, vision, and values)
- Division/Department’s Strategic Goals and Objectives
- Succession Planning Statement of Purpose
- Succession Planning Implementation Action Steps (big-picture)
- Succession Planning Implementation Action Steps (for each functional area)
- Succession Planning Templates
- Expert Judgment (both internal and external small and midsize enterprises)
- Succession Plans (for each key employee)
In 2014, I had a chance to put this succession planning process into practice in the public sector while serving as the deputy chief technology officer for workforce enhancement for the State of New Jersey’s Office of Information Technology (OIT). I was one of five members of the Governor’s Technology Cabinet and 16 members of the OIT Executive Management Team.
Since I was the first person to ever occupy this position, I had no successor from whom to establish and ensure continuity. It was up to me. So, shortly after I took on this role, I initiated the performance of a review of the 45 employees in what was called “Workforce Enhancement Affinity Group” (WEAG) of whom I determined five (including me) were “key employees.” The other four (a Manager and three Project Managers) had over 105 years of combined state experience and each one was eligible to retire with a full pension and medical benefits should they decide to do so. I decided that was too much risk for the taxpayers, the state, OIT and WEAG to have without some type of “mitigation strategy.”
So, we commenced the succession planning process using the organizational excellence resources I had accumulated over my previous 25-year career and adapted them for use in this particular work environment. As an added step, I requested that these four “key employees” include an assessment of the skillsets, competencies and capabilities as well as the projected retirement dates of each member of their respective functional area teams.
Then, we created the WEAG Succession Planning Team and gathered the necessary inputs: the OIT strategic plan (mission, vision and values), the WEAG strategic goals and objectives, the WEAG statement of purpose, the implementation action steps and the templates. We included succession planning as an item in our weekly managers’ meeting agenda and conferred between meetings to be sure the various action items would be completed by their respective due dates.
It’s a good thing we had commenced this process proactively.
The first retirement, in what turned out to be a series, was announced: After 30 years of service to the state, my only manager announced his intention to retire within 60 days. A team leader and a senior developer, with nearly 55 years of combined experience, both announced their respective retirements within 60 days after that. Fortunately, we already had a head-start on their succession plans to minimize the impact of their pending retirements.
Finally, when my requests for compensatory and/or human resource support were repeatedly rejected by my superiors over those ensuing four months, we arrived at a mutually-agreed-upon exit strategy so that I could return to my management consulting practice in the Meadowlands Region—but not before I submitted my succession plan as well as those for my remaining WEAG Management Team members to pass on to my successor.
I think that is the way organizational succession should be handled: in a proactive, integrated and preventive way. I would love to receive your comments or feedback on this matter, too.
William S. Ruggles is a member of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber and its Ambassador and Technology committees. He is the COO and managing partner of the Ruggles2 Center for Organizational Performance Improvement (COPI), a virtual training center and management consulting firm specializing in quality, continuous improvement and organizational excellence with both for-profit and nonprofit organizations. He has a Master’s from Columbia University and certifications in Project Management, Quality Management, Six Sigma, Lean and Agile/Scrum and is a National Baldrige Examiner. Previously, he was a New Jersey State Baldrige Examiner, a program manager for the WTC Medical Monitoring & Treatment Grant Program at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, an adjunct professor at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken and a PMO program manager and deputy chief technology officer for workforce enhancement for the State of New Jersey OIT in Trenton. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.