Succession Planning in the Government

Succession Planning in the Government

Take me off the bench coach! Developing the next generation of leaders in government organizations.

Do you know who the next generation of leaders are within your organization? If you’re a senior executive, knowing the bench strength available to fill key roles is a major pain point. To meet your objectives, financial goals, and other KPIs, you need the right people in place for the long-haul. To ensure this you need to have a comprehensive succession plan to help attract, retain, and develop the talent within your organization so they’re ready to come off the bench when a vacancy occurs.

Of course, no organization wants to experience a slow down or disruption due to employee turnover. But these absences can be felt more in government due to the nature of the work, the responsibilities, and skillsets available to backfill or even temporarily replace a departed employee. Government agencies are also known for higher structure, bureaucracy, and knowledge-based performance compared to private sector jobs.1

The answer then is not a one-time solution. Here, we lay out a game plan to help you recruit and develop successors inside and outside of your organization. 

Attracting & Retaining Talent

You may be tired of hearing this, but any talent recruitment and retention strategy must focus on the Millennial generation and their nuances. According to Pew Research studies, Millennials became the largest population in the workforce back in 2016.2 Seven years later that number has only grown. The added Gen Z population entering the workforce means that the policies and processes in place for Baby Boomers and Gen X are outdated. Your organization needs to be adaptable to the wants, needs, and desires of this younger workforce.

As a group, Millennial and Gen Z employees are not willing to sacrifice time away from their families or personal goals without seeing a clear ROI. In fact, “nearly two in five say they have rejected a job or assignment because it didn’t align with their values” according to the 2022 Deloitte Global Survey.3 The report goes on to explain that when Millennials are satisfied with their workplace culture and the impact of their contributions, they’re loyal to that organization.

The government sector can benefit by highlighting their service-based, meaningful work supporting their communities. Additionally, since financial security is also a concern as these younger people age, promoting things like student loan repayment, retirement and health benefits will be strong at attracting applicants and retaining employees.

Developing Talent

Millennial and Gen Z employees want to know there are opportunities for development and growth in their positions. Second only to work-life balance in the Deloitte survey, these employees prioritize learning and development opportunities as one of the top reasons they choose to work for their current organization. Even higher than salary and remote work.3

Jennifer Toth, Director, Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) says “Building the skillset of our existing and future leaders is where we need to look in the government.  In the past we haven’t, but the tides are changing.” Government organizations that may have traditionally struggled to showcase career development opportunities within their organizations need to think outside the box. Growth is no longer exclusively referring to promotions and leadership opportunities. Agencies can promote growth through diversity & inclusion, sustainability efforts, and soft-skill development.

Another area where government agencies can step up is with open and consistent internal communication strategies. Employees in these younger generations want to feel heard and value feedback. Over 65% of Millennials and Gen Z stay at an organization for more than 5 years when they feel empowered. “When people feel their voices are heard, they tend to feel more connected and loyal to their organizations,” Deloitte said.3 It’s important that the red-tape and politics typically associated with government agencies doesn’t prohibit open communication amongst the team.


What can government organizations do to mitigate some of the previous stereotypes about their culture and develop a succession plan around attracting, retaining, and developing talent in the younger workforce? The simple answer: engage a people-focused strategy.

Step 1 – Complete a risk assessment.
Identify the most vulnerable roles based on turnaround time to backfill a position, and the qualifications and knowledge needed to perform the responsibilities effectively. In the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission succession plan developed back in 20124, they used the following criteria to help prioritize the most at-risk roles: What are the agencies strategic goals? What are the key leadership positions needed to accomplish those goals? What competencies and skills are needed to be successful in such a role?

Step 2 – Create and maintain internal development programs.

Determine if you have a pipeline of current employees with the potential to fill these at-risk positions in the future. To ensure this, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management created programs such as New Hire Program Development and Implementation, and the Potential Leader Program Development and Implementation.5 They also engaged in training curriculum, continuous education resources, mentorship programs, and several more.

The point is there is not a one-time, one-size-fits-all strategy. The programs must be a comprehensive and continuous system put in place within the organization.

Step 3 – Have consistent internal communication.
Government organizations know that engaging in preselection is a major foul, so deliberate and consistent communication is key. If the employees don’t feel the programs are credible or reliable, then they’re meaningless and will not inspire loyalty over the long-term. There also needs to be buy-in from the top down to implement and maintain the programs successfully.

Communicate openly and honestly about the key leadership positions, the competencies and qualifications required for these roles, and the steps needed to get there. In a joint report from the National Institute of Health’s Office of Human Resources, they explain that in order to maintain equal opportunity in the competitive selection process “it is more effective and a best practice to determine which positions are best qualified to succeed another position rather than the individual people filling those positions at any given time.”6

Step 4 – Establish accountability.

To measure success of these programs there must be regular monitoring and evaluation practices. Things like post-program placement rates, vacancy rates of critical positions, number of employees sourced internally vs externally, program compliance, and more.4

Implementing an assessment tool like the 360º evaluation within all levels of the organization will allow your Millennial and Gen Z employees to feel their input is valued. Plus, their feedback will help to expand your programs in ways that would make employees more committed to the organization.

It starts from the first recruitment phone call, to training and onboarding, onto consistent development conversations and performance reviews during their tenure.Use the above recommendations to create a game plan and develop the next generation of leaders within your organization. Build up your bench by tapping into your existing leaders experience and knowledge to assist the younger generation through mentorship and coaching. The great thing about these younger generations is that they’re generally committed to their own self-development. As long as you provide them with options, communicate clearly, and promote the benefits within your organization, you can better attract, retain, and develop talent.

“There is no success without a successor.” – Peter Drucker

  1. Working in Government: Pros and Cons, Updated March 10, 2023. Indeed Editorial Team
  2. Millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. labor force. April 2018. By Richard Fry.
  3. The Deloitte Global 2022 Gen Z & Millennial Survey. 2022. t Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited.
  4. Leadership Succession Management Plan – Leading into the Future. July 2012. EEOC.
  5. U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Agency Strategies – Succession Planning Development Strategies.
  6. Succession Planning Step-by-Step Guide. National Institute of Health. Office of Human Resources.

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