What can we learn from three leading government organizations about their success in recruiting and retaining qualified candidates? The Center for State and Local Government Excellence found that the State of Tennessee, City of Sunnyvale, California, and Hennepin County, Minnesota, see succession planning as an integral part of their strategies to attract, engage, and retain employees.
But the HR managers in these three governments say succession planning today is quite different from how it was once viewed. Succession planning is no longer defined as identifying an heir apparent for an upcoming vacancy. Rather, the new approach is to develop a pool of employees who can become qualified to assume new responsibilities. Succession planning also is seen as part of a full safety net of human resources offerings that will appeal to current and future employees.
LEAD Tennessee, for example, helps build a leadership pipeline by giving 130 employees from all state agencies a 12-month leadership development experience. Hennepin County has a similar approach, prioritizing leadership development over subject matter expertise so that a larger number of employees will be ready and able to step into executive responsibilities.
Sunnyvale, California, competing for talent in the heart of Silicon Valley, has made a sustained commitment to focus on learning and career development. Each new employee files a career development plan with human resources. It serves as a guide for employees and their supervisors to identify classes, experiences, and professional development opportunities that align with their career goals.
By growing their own talent and creating learning opportunities, government agencies send a clear message to their employees that they value them and want them to stay and grow. For instance, the State of Tennessee leaders hold periodic “stay interviews” with employees to learn what is going well, what they like about working for the state, what challenges they are encountering, and what the manager can do to help overcome those challenges.
To be seen as an employer of choice is a goal for all three agencies studied. That means giving special attention to onboarding, as well as offering employees challenging work and growth opportunities. Hennepin County, with 8500 employees, sees the value of getting new employees connected to other county agencies from the outset. The county’s New Employee Academy assigns new employees from different departments to a cohort and brings them together three times in their first year to met with each other and with human resources.
Attention to the individual needs and goals of employees is common to all three organizations. Managers hold regular talent review meetings with employees to ensure that they talk to them about specific opportunities, such as overseeing a temporary project, job shadowing a position of interest, or moving into a rotational assignment to bolster their experience.
The bottom line: Whether the challenge is increased competition with the private and nonprofit sectors or shifting demographics, government leaders need to bring a sense of urgency to the goal of attracting and retaining talent. Leaders build trust by investing in their employees and making a sustained commitment to help them learn and grow.