Succession Planning

Submitted by: Lisa Dugan, Lindsey Reed, and Natalie Romero, North Coast Regional DCSS

Imagine: it’s a beautiful day, there is a light breeze, and you are relaxed, enjoying your time walking the tidal zone at the beach.  The surf has been perfect, but all of a sudden the water starts to shift and the tide begins to pull you out. Then you see it, that huge wave from a distance. You frantically paddle toward shore, but you can see that silver tsunami on the horizon and it’s about to overtake you. You know you need to navigate through that big wave, but how? It feels impossible.

When I think of the current challenges of creating and maintaining stability and sustainability within our organization, the old expression, “May you live in interesting times” comes to mind. In fact, there has been a perfect storm brewing: boomer retirements, newer generations coming into the workforce in fewer numbers, government jobs don’t hold the same luster as they did to the boomer generation, and the quickened pace of change in the child support program. To add to the storm, the LCSAs in California have faced budget-induced layoffs or voluntary staffing reductions in order to parallel the declining caseloads. All of these factors have left a huge gap for many of our organizations. The result is there are fewer experienced staff and middle managers with enough time in their current job to enable them to successfully step into leadership roles. Those with the experience we desire are often on their way out the door with thoughts of piña coladas and sandy beaches dancing through their heads.

The good news is this: we have been laying the groundwork for succession planning in our organizations in several ways.

Here are a few ways we have done this:

  • Hiring
    • Gear the process to vet for the best candidates with behavior-based questions
    • Understand where and how to advertise to current generations
  • Retention via Engagement & Development
    • Offer flexibility to the extent that you are able within your County’s structure
      • More flexible work schedules
    • Offer external and internal training and development
      • Increasingly challenging job assignments or projects (even within our strict job classifications there is room to offer voluntary assignments)
      • Mentor staff (whether it is a formalized or informal program)
    • Create a Healthy Work Environment
      • Create and enforce expectations around communication, professional behavior, and professional development in the workplace
      • Maintain a culture that creates connection between staff (connection with colleagues happens to be one of the biggest reasons new employees will choose to stay with an organization)
  • Transfer of Information
    • Develop (or adopt from others) procedure manuals
    • Mentor key staff in the more nuanced aspects of leadership responsibilities

One of the crown jewels of this program is the camaraderie among us, the local leaders. We are just a phone call away from assistance or advice from one other, which has helped to create new ideas and resolve issues. Taking advantage of the resources CSDA provides helps our organizations to develop our “up and comers.” Shared services help so that we can concentrate our efforts on other areas of the program, such as mentoring and other succession-planning related activities.

Succession planning truly isn’t a short-term fix, rather a continuous organizational evolution of hiring, retaining, engaging, and developing staff to move to increasingly more responsible roles. The catch right now is that it has to take place with more speed than ever. Therefore, we must continue to ask ourselves pertinent questions: Are we providing the right incentives to new generations? Are we creating a culture that expects and rewards the right behaviors? Are we providing enough mentoring to staff who may sooner or later take our places? Additionally, we need to continue to actively develop leadership at all levels including rewarding risk and innovation and allowing for greater autonomy among staff and teams. By doing this, we come closer to that stable and sustainable organization we wish to leave behind. Then, when it becomes our time for piña coladas and sandy white beaches, we’ll do so knowing we helped our organizations surf the silver tsunami well.