Putting the success in succession
- By Colleen O'Hara
- Jun 12, 2000
If your senior information technology executives leave for another job or
retirement, do you know who will take their place?
Despite today's competitive job market and the daunting news that thousands
of senior managers could retire from government in the next few years, most
agencies still do not have a formal, comprehensive succession plan in place.
A recent survey of the Senior Executive Service showed that about 73
percent of career employees and 60 percent of noncareer employees said that
their agencies had no formal succession planning program for managers. In
the same survey, about 53 percent of career employees and 44 percent of
noncareer employees said that their agencies had no formal SES succession
"We ought to be concerned about this, given the large number of those eligible
to retire in the not too distant future," said Carol Bonosaro, president
of the Senior Executives Association, which sponsored the survey in cooperation
with the Office of Personnel Management.
In fact, a General Accounting Office report released last month said
that retirement trends in government underscore the importance of succession
planning. GAO found that of the 6,000 career SES members employed in September
1998, about 71 percent of them will be eligible to retire at the end of
The SES retirements could be significant because they "will result in
a loss in leadership continuity, institutional knowledge and expertise among
the SES corps," the GAO report said. Succession planning will help agencies
ensure that they have prepared and qualified people ready to fill those
senior positions, it said.
GAO last year issued a checklist to help agencies address work force
issues such as succession planning. "It's an issue that has continually
come up: that agencies do not have well-developed work force plans," said
Michael Brostek, associate director of federal management and work force
issues at GAO's general government division. "I think agencies are turning
their attention to that because the work force is aging."
In its response to the report, OPM agreed that agencies should focus
more on executive succession planning, but it also indicated that progress
has been made. It said 16 agencies and departments have SES Candidate Development
Programs that address part of the succession planning process, including
assessing candidates' developmental needs and identifying recruitment sources.
OPM also is developing a work force planning model and computer system that
will help agencies fill executive job openings.
The news may not be all bad. "The only case I can see where agencies
don't have to worry is because of the downsizing that's occurred in the
SES," Bonosaro said. "The feeling is there will be plenty of folks who are
ready to apply for and be considered for positions in SES."
In some cases, however, the downsizing has meant that fewer middle
managers are getting the executive experience they need to move up the ladder.
In at least one agency, some executives are taking different assignments
for a few months so that those in the middle ranks can get some executive
experience, Bonosaro said.
"That's the other side of the coin," she said. "It would behoove agencies
to do succession planning lest they find themselves in a situation where
you have [senior executives] who are ready but perhaps" not able to take
over, she said. Agencies "ought to be anticipating: "What kind of talent
do I have coming up the pipeline?'"