Succession Planning...Preparing for the Future

State: UT Type: Model Practice Year: 2016

The Salt Lake County Health Department provides public health services to roughly 1.2 million people within incorporated and unincorporated areas of Salt Lake County, Utah.  Salt Lake County is the most populous County in the state, comprising approximately 40% of the state's population. The demographics of the population served within Salt Lake County range from very wealthy to extreme poverty, with approximately 13% of the population living in poverty. The Health Department provides services to the community in 6 different clinical settings that are strategically placed throughout the County and  community outreach through inspections and home visits.  The Health Department has over 60 different public health programs which include nurse family partnership, immunizations, WIC services, STD services, restaurant and food cart inspections, water and air quality, emergency response, and preparedness, epidemiology tracking and investigations and community education.  These programs provide valuable services to the citizens of Salt Lake County and  are staffed and managed by highly trained employees, which in many cases have worked for the Department for over 30 years.  The Health Department has many innovative programs that staff have developed and implemented in Salt Lake County which has us brought state and national recognition. In order to prepare for the impending retirement of up to 30% of the Department's staff, succession planning became an important component of the Department's Workforce Development plan.  The Health Department realized the importance of transferring knowledge and expertise of these programs and division leaders to a pool of Department staff so that future retirements would not impact the services that the Department provides.  The public health impact of not preparing for retirement and the loss of institutional knowledge would be felt by Salt Lake County residents who rely on the Department's services.  The goal of the  succession project was to develop a process by which Department staff would be trained in skills that are comprised within key positions of the Department that are currently staffed by personnel that could retire within the next 5-10 years. The key positions were identified by determining the positions within the organization that are integral to the Department's functioning.  Once these were identified then it was necessary to determine whether there was an adequate pool of employees within the Department that had the necessary competencies. If there was a gap, then the position was included in the succession project. The succession project was developed and implemented in September 2014 in conjunction with Salt Lake County's Department of Human Resources.  Salt Lake County's Human Resources wanted to pilot the program first before looking to expand to all County Departments. Initially, a group of employees that represented the five different divisions within the Health Department were selected to participate on the Succession Planning Committee.  This group of employees helped finalize the list of key positions that were integral to the Department and were currently held by personnel that potentially could retire in 5-10 years.  The group identified the responsibilities and skill sets within these key positions, prepared applications and information about the program, educated staff and eventually selected a group of 11 employees to participate in the program's first year.  The mentees of the 2014-2015 Succession Project were selected with the understanding that the project would last one year.  After the completion of the year, mentees would be awarded six months of supervisory credit.  The mentees were obligated to provide up to five hours per week to the program, and working with a mentor to complete a project and participate in Department prepared training.  Selected mentees, at the beginning of 2015, were given a survey to help establish a baseline of the skills that participants already had and where the gaps existed.  This was done so planned training could be tailored to address the gaps and also determine if the trainings were effective in increasing the mentee's knowledge base.  In addition to the trainings, the mentors worked with mentees to develop a  project that would further enhance the mentee's skills and understanding.  The mentee group was resurveyed to determine if the training and project had increased knowledge and understanding in key areas.  The survey demonstrated an increase in knowledge in areas where training was provided.  The initial objective of creating a process to train employees to increase the pool of qualified staff for key positions was met, showing that the training and projects increased knowledge in areas that are inherent in key positions. Preparing the public health workforce to fill key positions is essential so that program services can continue uninterrupted and institutional knowledge gained from decades of work can be passed on.
Approximately 78 million of the current workforce is eligible to retire either now or within the next five years. The public sector has done little to prepare for this mass exodus of the workforce. The retirement of these professionals is often referred to as the silver tsunami because the effects of these retirements could be devastating.  The knowledge and understanding of programs built over decades of service must be transferred to other staff so that the ultimate transitioning of these positions is seamless and without disruption of service.   The Salt Lake County Health Department, in partnership with Salt Lake County Human Services, developed a pilot succession project to determine if involving a group of staff in a year long process of training and completing a project would increase knowledge and understanding in competencies that were inherent in key positions integral to the Department. This pool of people would grow over time as the program was repeated annually and would thereby increase the depth of understanding of competencies required in Department key positions.  This pool of people would be drawn from when key positions became available through retirement which would make the transitioning of people seamless and without impact on services. The Health Department has approximately 30% of their current workforce eligible for retirement in the next 5-10 years.  Many of the personnel that are preparing to retire, work in key management and program management positions and have decades of experience and knowledge.  If the institutional knowledge held by personnel in these key positions is not transitioned to new staff, then efficacy and efficiency of program services could be impacted.  Furthermore, not transferring this knowledge is not a prudent use of tax payer dollars in that new staff in these vacated positions would have to pay for training that could have been provided at no cost by current personnel in these positions.  The time spent providing in house training and mentoring is insignificant compared to the cost of sending future staff in key positions to training.  Time spent training new personnel would mean a lag in program services.  Mistakes made and learned by program and divisions managers that have held their positions for years would not be passed on but rather potentially repeated, which is a waste of time and resources. Historically the Health Department and Salt Lake County Department of Human Resources have provided training tracks in leadership and supervision which has helped mentor future leaders for both the County as a whole and specifically the Health Department.  These trainings have not been specific to key positions that exist within County organizations and therefore have been more general and applicable to a wide variety of management positions.  What is unique about the Health Department's succession planning project is the deliberate process that was utilized to identify positions within the health department that were key to the department's operations and  currently held by employees that could retire in the next 5-10 years.  Once the key positions were identified, the competencies needed for these positions were determined.  These competencies then became the core of the training that would be provided throughout the project.  The mentees were also mentored by people that hold these key positions with the understanding that mentee's projects would encompass some of the unique responsibilities of these positions. The selected mentees were surveyed before the project began in the core competencies in an effort to determine their knowledge in these areas.  Based on the survey results, the training and project design were tailored to expose and educate the mentee group in the areas where the biggest gaps in knowledge existed. Traditionally succession planning has involved the hand selection and mentoring of one candidate to be trained and mentored by a person that has been identified as retiring.  This type of succession planning, although highly specific, limits the options and the opportunity to expand the pool of staff knowledge.  Increasing  knowledge of a wider pool of staff in competencies that are comprised in key positions will benefit the organization as these skill sets can be utilized in current capacities, although perhaps on a more limited basis, and will increase the depth of potential candidates that the Department can draw from when replacing retiring personnel.  An indirect effect is that the knowledge of skills necessary for key positions may increase an employee's enthusiasm to obtain more training or seek positions that require more of these skill sets.  Limiting the pool of employees that participate in succession planning through hand selection can negatively impact morale as it does not allow staff the opportunity to apply, demonstrate interest and interview for positions.  In these cases, personnel believe management is making decisions for them without affording them the opportunity to explore new opportunities and demonstrate their abilities and enthusiasm. The Salt Lake County Health Department and Salt Lake County Human Resources pilot succession project is unique in that it is malleable and will adapt to the key positions that are identified within an organization as needing depth because of impending retirement or transitioning.  The same set of positions may or may not be involved in the next year's class and therefore the training and projects will be different.  The key positions will be identified on an annual basis and will be determined by evaluating which positions held by employees that are eligible for retirement and if there is an adequate pool of employees that can competitively apply for these positions. Department managers provide the training on competencies that are inherent in their positions which reinforces to those trained the resources that are available within the Department and a better understanding of the responsibilities of key positions. At the conclusion of the pilot project, the Health Department  created a packet outlining the process that was followed through the pilot program including information about the program, the application that was developed, the surveys taken at the beginning and end of the year and the training provided.  This packet has been disseminated to other County Departments that are looking to prepare for the retirement of their workforce.  The projects that these organizations create will be unique to their agency as their key positions will be different and consequently the training will be unique to their needs.  Ultimately, the succession planning completed within Salt Lake County organizations will prepare not only individual Department's for retirement but will also increase the pool of project and program managers that have training and skills necessary to successfully steward County programs and services. 
The Health Department's goal in implementing a succession plan was to prepare for the  impending retirement of 30% of the Department's workforce in the next 5-10 years.  The objective in doing this was to transfer decades of knowledge held by people in key positions so that services provided by the Department would not be impacted by retirements. In transferring this knowledge over the course of many years, the Department would increase the pool of qualified applicants that could apply for these key positions The Health Department developed a Workforce Development Plan in 2014 which identified the need to plan for the impending retirement of roughly 30% of the Department's workforce.  The Health Department, like other government agencies, did not have a plan to prepare for the "silver tsunami" that would happen with the retirement of the baby boomer population.  In some cases, people in the Health Department had held key positions for over 40 years and a formal process for transitioning decades worth of knowledge to other staff had never been developed.  To implement a succession plan, the Health Department initially met with Salt Lake County Human Resources in order to obtain their support and recognition for the program.  The Health Department believed that staff who participated in the succession project should receive supervisory credit in order to recognize the additional time and energy that would be required.  Human Resources had to approve of the supervisory credit that would be awarded and ultimately decided that participation in the project would warrant 6 months of supervisory credit.  Human Resources also helped the Health Department identify key positions and go through the process of performing a gap analysis to determine where gaps of knowledge existed.  The gap analysis looked at the knowledge necessary to carry out responsibilities inherent in the key positions and looked to see if other existing positions provided the opportunities to attain these skills. Human Resources showcased the Health Department's pilot project within the County with the understanding that the process developed by the Health Department would be expanded to other County Departments.  Other County agencies are faced with similar high numbers of retirements and want to implement a plan in order to begin preparing.  The supervisory credit that would be awarded upon completion of this project was also an incentive to other County agencies as employees throughout the County historically have had difficulties acquiring the years of supervisory experience necessary to qualify for entry level management positions. After the amount of supervisory credit and the key positions were identified with the help of Human Resources, the Health Department selected a committee comprised of representatives from the 5 divisions within the Health Department.  The thought in establishing this committee was multifaceted in that help was needed to determine the requirements of the program, application, training and understanding.  However, the involvement of representatives from the 5 divisions of the Department served another purpose in that having employee involvement in the process developed trust among employees of the program.  The committee felt it was important to be transparent so that employees did not suspect that the ultimate participants of the program were hand selected.  Traditional succession planning projects  typically involve the mentoring of selected individuals based on management decisions so employees were skeptical of the programs' true intentions.  Salt Lake County Human Resources had forewarned the Health Department that employees may be wary of the succession plan and question whether all employees would be given the opportunity or would management ultimately make the decisions. Furthermore, because supervisory credit was going to be awarded to successful applicants, employees needed to trust that those chosen to be in the program were not hand selected.  The succession planning committee met regularly to further refine the Department's key positions and create program criteria, an application, brochure to explain program, power point to present to employee groups and ultimately what the year's course work would entail. In developing the program's application the committee believed it was important to establish minimum qualifications that applicants had to have in order to apply to be in the succession project.  It was felt by the committee that applicants into the program needed to have performance ratings on past evaluations that met expectations.  The committee felt this was necessary because participation in the project would require time away from their current job responsibilities. Past evaluation scores would demonstrate an applicant's adeptness in current job responsibilities, which would demonstrate whether they would be successful in completing additional project and attending additional training.  Furthermore, the committee felt  the current supervisor of the applicant must sign off on the application in order to demonstrate they were aware of their employee's interest in the program.  Department management were given a strong directive by the Health Department's Executive Director that employees should be encouraged to participate in the program, as the future success of many of our programs and services depending upon a successful succession plan.  The application for the program also required two nomination letters be included in the application.  The committee felt that the nomination letters would give the committee a better understanding of the applicant's ability to successfully complete the program's requirements. The program brochure explained that the program would last one year and would require a maximum five hours of work weekly.  Selected applicants would also have to attend the training and complete a project. Once the application and brochure explaining the program were completed, members of the succession planning committee scheduled meetings throughout the Department to explain the program.  The committee members answered questions from fellow staff members and communicated back to the whole committee if there were questions and concerns.  The group was able to dispel suspicion over the program's intentions, which in retrospect was one of the keys to the program's acceptance and ultimate success. Once applications were received, they were initially reviewed by the Associate Director of the Health Department and the Assistant Director of Administrative Services.  The whole committee did not review the applications in order to provide privacy to the applicants.  Furthermore, two committee members from the succession planning committee had applied to be in the succession project, so it was not appropriate to discuss these applications with the group. The people who had written nomination letters for candidates were interviewed rather than the candidate in hopes of gleaning a unique perspective of the candidate.  Once the successful applicants were selected, the committee as a whole worked to identify mentors.  The mentors were largely selected based on areas of interest the candidates highlighted in their application.  The candidates were named "mentees" and matched with their "mentors". With matching of mentees and mentors completed, the committee held their first meeting at which time it was explained to the group the purpose of the program, the project requirements, and the schedule for the year.  It was also explained that a survey would be sent to the mentees in order to assess their current knowledge and understanding of competencies identified in the key positions.  Following the survey, the committee took the information and determined where training was needed.  The list of training that were provided are as follows: Understanding of the Legislative Process Employee Evaluation and Discipline Performance Management and Goal Setting Budget Process (this entailed two separate training) Accreditation Process Policy Development The training developed was provided mainly by Department staff and in some cases mentees.  Having the training provided by Department staff helped mentees develop a better understanding of position responsibilities, which reinforced their awareness of where to go to find more information or needed resources.  Communication is the core to the success of any organization.  Increasing awareness of the internal resources and knowledge base that are available to staff will increase the Department staff's effectiveness in performing job responsibilities. A suggestion, by one of the mentees, was to include a book discussion as part of the quarterly meetings that were scheduled to be held with mentors and mentees.  The book that the group, both mentors and mentees, read was the "Leadership Challenge".  All participants in the program were provided with a copy of the book, and each mentor was assigned a chapter of the book to read and report on at the quarterly mentee/mentor meetings.  The book discussion ended up being one of the best parts of the project.  The chapter review by the mentors gave the mentees some relevancy to the information they were reading in the book.  It led to some lively and interesting discussions and perspectives. In addition, at each of the quarterly meetings the mentees and mentors reported on their project's progress.  The projects that mentees were involved in varied considerably depending upon the experience wanted by the mentee. Projects ranged from writing a Health Department Vehicle Use Policy to helping develop and track a budget. The mentees were recently resurveyed to see if the training and projects were effective in increasing knowledge and understanding of core competencies in key positions.  The survey results showed improvement in areas where training was provided. On a scale from 1-10, the knowledge gained increased two points. Next year's training will be reviewed and adjusted to meet the identified needs, and will address areas that did not show much increase in knowledge. Furthermore, this year's "graduates" will provide some of next year's training as a way to ensure that knowledge gained through the process is not lost.  The Department will continue to engage this  growing pool of people so that knowledge is not lost. The Health Department created a booklet that memorializes the process followed in development and implementation of a succession plan for the Department.  This information was presented to Salt Lake County Human Resources, in addition to some other larger departments within the County.  The feedback has been very positive, agencies are happy they don't have to create their own program but rather take the Health Department's model and make it fit for their agency. The full effects of developing, implementing and continuing with a succession plan will not be realized until the 30% of the workforce that is eligible for retirement starts to retire.  A harbinger that these retirements are beginning is that in the last year there have been ten retirements which represent approximately 300 years of experience and knowledge.  The Health Department and Salt Lake County have begun a process to capture this knowledge, which will better position the Department and the County to plan rather than react to impending retirements.
The Salt Lake County Health Department's goal was to create and establish a process to plan for the impending retirement of nearly 30% of their workforce.  The succession pilot program was created and implemented in order to determine if this formal process would create a way to transfer knowledge from retiring personnel in key positions to the remaining workforce so that impending retirements would not impact services to the Salt Lake County community.  If successful, the succession plan would create a pool of qualified candidates that the Department could draw from when replacing retiring personnel.  At the onset of the project, the Department identified the positions that were key to the organization and the competencies that were core to these positions.   The project was started in July, 2014 and implemented in January, 2015.  The successful applicants, mentees, were given a survey at the beginning of the project's year to determine understanding and confidence in competencies that were identified as necessary for the key positions. The survey was provided through survey monkey and asked  mentees to rate their understanding of the competencies that were determined to be core to key positions within the organization.  The mentees were asked to rate their understanding 1-10 in the competencies with one indicating little understanding and a ten demonstrating their skills were strong enough to consider them an expert.  The idea of surveying the mentees was to assess their knowledge level before the project began and again upon completion with the expectation that the knowledge level would increase. The competencies that were identified within the key positions and therefore would be part of the program training were as follows: Employee Management Developing and writing effective goals Performing evaluations Managing difficult employees and following disciplinary process Recruiting and interviewing job applicants Hiring process, new employee orientation Conflict Resolution Program Management Developing and implementing a Quality Improvement Project How the accreditation process works Facilitating effective meetings Evaluating program effectiveness Performance Management finding effective indicators Working with statewide affiliates Policy Skills How the Legislative process works Developing policies, operating procedures and regulations County government, county council approval process Coalitions networking to collaborating with other agencies Using data to drive program planning Building community support Public Speaking Public speaking, presenting to community or employee groups Interaction with reporters and other media outlets Writing annual reports Coalitions and networking with other agencies for collaborative projects Writing strategic plans with public and partner input Facilitating a focus group Fiscal Skills Preparing an annual budget and monitoring expenses Negotiating program contracts and funding Purchasing and sole source justification Request for proposals and grant applications Classifying new positions approval for allocations The information from the survey was collected by a staff member and then shared with the succession planning committee. After completion of the project, the mentees were surveyed again using the same information and asking the mentees to once again rate their level of skills level on a scale 1-10.  The results of the second survey were compared to the first survey's results to see if skill level had changed in the areas where training was provided.  The list of surveyed competencies was lengthy and therefore training was not provided in all of the initially identified competencies.  In the areas where training was provided, there was an increase in skill level which ranged from .78 to 1.89 points. Based on the results of the survey, modifications will be made to both the survey and the training.  The committee will refine the survey to reflect what realistically can be provided in training and project experience within a year's time.  The survey will only reflect the training that are actually provided so as not to complicate the survey.  Furthermore, the second survey will show the mentees what their initial score was so that they can adequately assess whether they believe their skill level increased or decreased from the beginning of the year. Further modifications that will be made is that when training is provided, trainers will be provided with the competencies that they should specifically address so that the mentees specifically understand the connection between the training and the key position competencies. Moving forward the first "graduates" of the succession planning project will be utilized to participate and lead training in competencies and project design.  The goal is to perpetuate the learning process so skills and information  mentees were exposed to is not forgotten.  
The  succession project that was jointly implemented by the Salt Lake County Health Department and Salt Lake County Human Services will be adopted as a permanent and sustained program as a result of the positive outcomes realized in the pilot. The Health Department developed a packet that included all of the information developed such as applications and pamphlets, outlines of training and pre and post surveys which has been made available to all County Departments.  Each Department will individualize the program to their culture so that it works within their organization.  The Health Department felt that it was necessary to include in the application that the applicant's supervisor was aware of their staff's interest, however some Departments may see this as being too restrictive because a supervisor may not give approval.  The Health Department's culture is predominately made up of supportive management so that this requirement was not seen as creating a roadblock but rather would create a more supportive environment for a candidate.  In the initial application, it was decided that all applicants would be interviewed by the succession planning group.  The interview, along with letters of recommendation and the application would give the succession group a good understanding of a candidate's qualifications.  After the applications were received, the group felt that interviews with the people who had written letters of recommendation would provide more useful information than an interview with the candidate.  The committee felt that the people writing the letters of support had worked with the candidates and could provide a unique perspective. Feedback from the survey given to all staff that had applied to be in the succession project clearly showed that candidates wanted the opportunity to interview.  In discussion with the Succession Planning Committee, it was decided that in 2016 all applicants will be interviewed either in place of the interviews with the people who had written letters of recommendation or in addition to.   The survey that was given before the initiation and at the completion of the project was very extensive, listing all core competencies that were found in the identified key positions.  The training that was developed looked at the areas where the biggest gaps of knowledge existed. Moving forward, the competencies that are crucial to the key positions will be refined and the training will mirror those that are identified. Determining where gaps of knowledge exist through a survey is subjective and really depends upon the survey takers level of understanding of the question that is asked.  Also, some people are not as forthcoming in a survey, underestimating or overestimating their knowledge. Rather than determining the content of the training on survey information, the survey will be used as a benchmark for assessing the change in level of understanding before and after training is provided.  Furthermore, the survey that is taken upon completion of the project, will illustrate the numerical number the mentee initially gave as their understanding and level of confidence in the identified core competencies.  Upon completion of the second survey, some mentees admitted that they had forgotten what number, 1-10, they had listed in the initial survey.  In order for the survey results to be meaningful and demonstrate whether the training and project experience had increased knowledge and confidence in core competencies, the Succession Planning group felt it was important that the mentees know what they had previously indicated as their knowledge level so they could accurately reflect if their knowledge level had increased or decreased.   During the 2015 pilot project the frequency of training was initially set to occur every other month.  In reviewing the breadth of knowledge that the mentees should be taught in order to at least expose them to the core competencies found in the key positions, the frequency of training needs to be increased.  Towards the end of 2015, the planning committee did increase the training frequency when it became apparent that the every other month schedule was not giving adequate time to  expose mentees to areas that the committee believed necessary. Furthermore, the frequency was also increased because the feedback from the mentees was so positive about the training.  Initially, the committee was very sensitive about not dedicating too much time to training but in practicality the training was a great way to expose mentees to concepts that could then be reinforced through their projects and mentors. The group that was created to represent the various Divisions with the Health Department was integral to the program's success and acceptance.  This group was able to dispel concerns among staff that successful candidates would be hand selected by management rather than through a fair and competitive process.  In hindsight, the concern over not having interviews was based on the underlying concern amoung Department staff that the process would not be fair.  Succession planning brought up some old biases that existed because of how  key positions have historically been selected in some organizations.  It was not uncommon in some agencies for successors to be hand selected and then exclusively mentored.  This type of succession planning lead to low morale and as was witnessed in our pilot, long lasting resentment and distrust.  The composition of the planning committee was key and although initially thought to change after a year, the group felt that lessons learned and experience gained should be transitioned to new committee members.  Therefore, the initial group will remain in tact for another year, with half transitioning out at the end of 2016.  Moving forward, committee assignment will be for two years. Health Department staff have been very receptive and enthusiastic about the succession project.  The committee has received great feedback from staff and the culture of skepticism that previously existed among some staff about the program's intentions has markedly dissipated. The application deadline for the 2016 project was October 30, 2015 and 12 applications were received from Department staff. This is comparable to the number received in 2015 which the committee felt was a good sign as it shows that among staff the program was seen as beneficial and worth the time commitment. Because of the positive feedback and the survey results that showed an increase in knowledge and confidence, succession planning will become a permanent part of the Health Department's workforce development plan. Similarly, the County's Human Resource Department is currently working with other County Departments to implement succession plans using the model developed by the Health Department.  Each County Department will take the model that was developed and adapt it to their own Department's culture.  Ultimately, County Human Resources would like to expand the succession plan to allow for succession planning across County Departments in order to increase opportunities for staff which will further strengthen the County's workforce and positioning for future retirements and changes.
I am a previous Model Practices applicant|Colleague in my LHD|Model Practices brochure|NACCHO website