New OPM succession planning guide attempts to address major SES pain point

Agencies are getting some help from the Office of Personnel Management to either fully implement or enhance existing talent management and succession planning programs.

In theory, agencies are already required to have an annual process that identifies skills gaps within their organizations and then develop a plan to attract, recruit, develop, promote and retain quality talent.

They should also have a succession plan, “where organizations identify those positions considered to be at the core of the organization — too critical to be left vacant or filled by any but the best-qualified persons — and then create a strategic plan to fill those positions with qualified and capable employees,” OPM said.

But OPM has found that too often, agencies either don’t have a talent management and succession plan in place at all, or they have one that’s still in the early stages of development.

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The latest piece of guidance was designed to help agencies better manage personnel through waves of retiring executives, transitions or reorganizations.

Though OPM’s memo may seem particularly relevant for today’s times, poor or infrequent succession planning has been a pain point for senior executives even before a new president took office and ordered a comprehensive government reorganization.

Senior executives have consistently given their agencies’ succession planning low marks on OPM’s annual SES exit survey.

About 61 percent of departing senior executives most recently told OPM that their agencies had done no formal succession planning before they left their organizations, and 56 percent said their agencies didn’t involve them in preparations to plan for their successors.

Agencies are in various stages of maturity with their succession plans, OPM said.

“On one end of the spectrum are agencies with fully developed and goal-based [talent management and succession planning processes that occur on a regular basis (e.g., annually),” the OPM memo said. “On the other hand are agencies with nonstrategic and unplanned processes and activities. It takes a couple of years to fully develop and implement a strategic TM&SP program.”

recent survey of current SES from the Senior Executives Association and Deloitte paints a similarly grim picture. Less than half, or 44 percent, believe government has a general strategy to develop future career leadership.

With that said, OPM has broken down the talent management and succession planning process into five specific stages.

Stage 1: Determine future executive resources needs

If agencies don’t have a strategic workforce plan, they should develop one. Succession plans should consider the number of critical leadership positions at the agency and the core skills needed to fill those positions, OPM said.

Agencies should also conduct a risk assessment for each leadership position to determine how much time and effort they’ll need to find replacements.

In addition, organizations should also determine whether they have enough potential leaders at various stages that could be ready to jump into leadership positions if needed.

Stage 2: Evaluate current talent state

Next, agencies should collect information on their senior executives’ career interests and retirement plans. Executives should meet with their supervisors to discuss their short term and long term career goals.

OPM suggests supervisors create and complete a talent development questionnaire about their executives’ skills, core competencies and possible career paths forward for their SES.

Stage 3: Align talent to agency needs

The Executive Review Board or another similar body should review whether executives are ready to fill critical positions, typically through some kind of talent review meeting.

Member of the ERB should ask about the executive’s next possible move, when that move should happen and what else the executive needs to develop before taking on a new key leadership role.

Stage 4: Finalize executive development plan

Next, supervisors should meet with their executives to review their development plans. They should also discuss specific professional development opportunities that executives can participate in to prepare for the next stages of their careers.

Executives should update and finalize their development plans and submit them back to the Executive Review Board.

Stage 5: Implement and update plans

Agencies should consistently review and update their succession plans, especially as organizational needs and the political climate change, OPM said.

Specifically, agencies should create metrics to make sure they’re seeing results. They may include:

  • Number of critical positions filled with internal candidates versus external candidates,
  • Percentage of critical positions that could have several successors,
  • Percentage of executives with signed and completed development plans,
  • Percentage of executives who have participated in at least developmental activity,
  • Time-to-fill critical positions,
  • Retention and turnover in executive positions,
  • Executives’ satisfaction with the talent management and succession planning process, and
  • Diversity of the SES corps based on gender, race and ethnicity.

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