Posthearing Questions Related to Succession Planning and Management

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-11-14.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

United States General Accounting Office
Washington, DC 20548

          November 14, 2003

          The Honorable Jo Ann Davis
          Subcommittee on Civil Service and Agency Organization
          Committee on Government Reform
          House of Representatives

          Subject: Posthearing Questions Related to Succession Planning and Management

          Dear Madam Chairwoman:

          On October 1, I testified before your Subcommittee at a hearing entitled “Human
          Capital Succession Planning: How the Federal Government Can Get a Workforce to
          Achieve Results.”1 This letter responds to your request that I provide answers to
          follow-up questions from the hearing. Your questions, along with my responses,

          1. The GAO report discusses how agencies in other countries have used
          succession planning to address specific human capital challenges. What are
          some of these challenges and how have agencies abroad used their succession
          planning and management initiatives to meet them?

          We reported that government agencies around the world are using succession
          planning and management to achieve a more diverse workforce, maintain their
          leadership capacity as senior executives retire, and increase the retention of high-
          potential staff. Leading organizations recognize that diversity can be an
          organizational strength that contributes to achieving results. For example, the United
          Kingdom’s Cabinet Office created Pathways, a 2-year program that identifies and
          develops senior managers from ethnic minorities who have the potential to reach the
          Senior Civil Service within 3 to 5 years. In addition, Canada uses its Accelerated
          Executive Development Program as a tool to help achieve a governmentwide
          diversity target. Specifically, the government has set a goal that by 2003, certain
          minorities will represent 20 percent of participants in all management development

          Succession planning and management can help agencies maintain leadership
          capacity. Both at home and abroad, a large percentage of senior executives will be

            U.S. General Accounting Office, Human Capital: Succession Planning and Management Is Critical
          Driver of Organizational Transformation, GAO-04-127T (Washington, D.C.: Oct. 1, 2003).
            U.S. General Accounting Office, Human Capital: Insights for U.S. Agencies from Other Countries’
          Succession Planning and Management Initiatives, GAO-03-914 (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 15, 2003).

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eligible to retire over the next several years. In the United States, we reported that
the federal government faces an estimated loss of more than half of the career
Senior Executive Service by October 2007.3 Canada is also using its Accelerated
Executive Development Program to address impending retirements of assistant
deputy ministers—one of the most senior executive-level positions in its civil
service. For example, 76 percent of this group is over 50 and approximately 75
percent are eligible to retire between now and 2008.

To increase retention of high-potential staff, Canada’s Office of the Auditor General
uses succession planning and management. According to a senior human capital
official, to provide an incentive for high-potential employees to stay with the
organization, the office provided them comprehensive developmental opportunities
in order to raise the “exit price” that competing employers would need to offer to lure
them away.

2. Can you highlight some of the ways in which other countries have used
succession planning and management to facilitate broader agency and
government transformation efforts?

Effective succession planning and management initiatives provide a potentially
powerful tool for fostering broader governmentwide or agencywide transformation
by selecting and developing leaders and managers who support and champion
change. For example, in 1999, the United Kingdom launched a wide-ranging reform
program known as Modernising Government to improve government services, and
subsequently started restructuring the content of its leadership and management
development programs to reflect this new emphasis on service delivery. Similarly, the
Family Court of Australia’s Leadership, Excellence, Achievement, Progression
program is preparing future leaders who could help the organization successfully
adapt to recent changes in how it delivers services. Specifically, the court considers
this increased emphasis on the needs of external stakeholders when selecting and
developing program participants.

3. Succession planning is sometimes thought of as simply a human capital
issue, yet I noted in your report that some organizations have used it as a
way to work past organizational boundaries and other barriers. Could you
describe in greater detail some of the examples you have found in this

Succession planning and management can help the organization become what it
needs to be, rather than simply recreating the existing organization. In Canada,
succession planning and management initiatives provide this broader perspective.
Since 1997, as the basis for Ontario’s governmentwide succession planning and
management process, the head of each ministry is to develop a succession plan that
(1) anticipates the ministry’s needs over the next couple of years, (2) establishes a
process to identify a pool of high-potential senior managers, and (3) links the
selection of possible successors to both ministry and governmentwide opportunities
and business plans. Similarly, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s succession
planning and management system provides it with an organizationwide picture of
 U.S. General Accounting Office, Senior Executive Service: Enhanced Agency Efforts Needed to
Improve Diversity as the Senior Corps Turns Over, GAO-03-34 (Washington, D.C.: Jan. 17, 2003).

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current and developing leadership capacity across the organization’s many functional
and geographic lines. It is responsible for a wide range of police functions on the
federal, provincial, and local levels and provides services in 10 provinces and three

4. We often hear about the importance of top leadership commitment to
implementing management improvement initiatives. Can you describe some
of the specific ways agency leaders demonstrated their commitment to
succession planning and management initiatives in the agencies you studied?

In other governments and agencies, top leadership demonstrates its support of
succession planning and management when it actively participates in these
initiatives. For example, each year the Secretary of the Cabinet, Ontario’s top civil
servant, convenes and actively participates in a 2-day succession planning and
management retreat with the heads of every government ministry to discuss the
anticipated leadership needs across the government as well as the individual status of
about 200 high-potential executives who may be able to meet those needs.

Top leadership also demonstrates its support of succession planning and
management when it regularly uses these programs to develop, place, and promote
individuals. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s senior executive committee
regularly uses the agency’s succession planning and management programs when
making such decisions of its top 500—600 officer and civilian employees.

Lastly, top leaders demonstrate support by ensuring that their agencies’ succession
planning and management initiatives receive sufficient funding and staff resources
necessary to operate effectively and are maintained over time. For example, at
Statistics Canada—the Canadian federal government’s central statistics agency—the
Chief Statistician of Canada has set aside a percentage, in this case over 3 percent, of
the total agency budget for training and development, thus making resources
available for the operation of the agency’s four leadership and management
development programs.
                                     _ _ _ _ _ _

For additional information on our work on federal agency transformation efforts and
strategic human capital management, please contact me on (202) 512-6806 or at

Sincerely yours,

J. Christopher Mihm
Director, Strategic Issues


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