IT succession planning inconsistent across government

Managers and human capital practitioners often have different ideas of how to plan for the next generation of technology leaders, study shows.

A newly released white paper reveals federal human capital practitioners have a better understanding than IT managers of how to plan for the next generation of IT leaders.

The American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council announced Aug. 21 the results of a study that examines the state of succession planning practices across the federal government set forth by ACT-IAC's Human Capital Shared Interest Group. The study looked at why succession planning isn’t always consistently executed across government.

While many agencies have implemented effective succession planning programs, a gap still exists between the perceptions of most of the human capital practitioners and the IT operational managers polled for the survey.

“In short, while the human capital practitioners felt they are delivering succession planning programs as directed by [the Office of Personnel Management], many IT operational managers are not aware of these programs in their areas, or find them ineffective at producing a pool of management candidates capable of executing agency initiatives,” according to the report.

Among the study's key findings:

Some federal agencies have embraced effective and valued succession planning: Examples of succession planning structures that are producing positive outcomes include one at the Commerce Department developed by the chief learning officer and one at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration through the Chief Human Capital Officer's NASA Leadership Model. Both cases show that senior leaders took responsibility for developing, maintaining and operating a successful human capital development program that were in line with agency goals.

Intra-agency succession planning doesn’t happen consistently governmentwide: The study found that a lack of focus on bringing agency-level succession planning with in line with agency mission showed a divide between human capital mangers and their agency leaders. One reason is that senior political appointees plan and execute short-term agency agendas, which then makes long-term agency succession planning seem unnecessary, something the group cautioned against. “Succession planning is not a short-term exercise and unfortunately, if it is used in that manner, it will lose its value to the enterprise,” the report's authors wrote. 

Succession planning isn’t always viewed as a strategic initiative: Despite directives that require agency heads to create and keep up a comprehensive succession planning process for their enterprise, the research demonstrated that several agencies weren’t providing information on their succession planning initiatives. For example, 50 percent of the surveyed human capital practitioners revealed their agencies lack plans for agencywide succession planning. They also don’t have communication plans for all management levels of the agency, nor the measurement of expected results.

The study was conducted in early 2010 at the request of the Human Capital SIG's Government Advisory Panel. Findings and recommendations were based on interviews with agency officials, survey data responses, and a search of relevant literature on federal succession planning.

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