Succession Planning— Building Leadership Capacity

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					                                                                      M I N N E S O TA

Succession Planning—
Building Leadership Capacity

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) initiated a formal
succession-planning program in the mid-1990s. The program is an executive-level
process designed to develop and/or externally recruit employees to support targeted
leadership positions. Currently in its third iteration, the succession-planning
initiative uses a competency-based, developmentally driven executive staffing
model to identify a talent pool of successors who can move into crucial positions
without unnecessary operational disruptions. The program has directly influenced
more than 20 senior executive management appointments. The Mn/DOT succession-
planning program has become a standard for successful succession planning,
and several other state transportation agencies are using it as the model for
developing their own programs.

T   he Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) began to explore a succession-planning
    in 1994. The intent was to create a model for identifying essential executive-level positions and
then developing internal candidates or recruiting externally to support those positions. The program
ensures that future leadership aligns with the Department’s strategic goals and objectives and that
the Department can take advantage of Mn/DOT’s talent pool.

Defining Mn/DOT’s Core Competencies
  As a first step in developing its succession-planning model, the Mn/DOT Senior Executive
Management Team created a steering committee of senior managers to direct the process. The
committee first researched best practices in the private sector, including corporations such as 3M,
Weyerhaeuser, and General Motors. The committee then used the private sector experience to
identify individual core competencies that describe how successful employees perform on the job
and help employees understand desired actions and behaviors.
  Committee members originally identified 40 core
competencies, but they were then able to refine and           The seven core
recommend the following seven individual competencies:
                                                              competencies guide
• Leadership.
• Learning and strategic systems thinking.                    Mn/DOT human resource
• Quality management.                                         functions and provide
• Organizational knowledge.                                   a framework for
• People management.                                          accountability throughout
• Technical knowledge.                                        the Department.
• Individual characteristics.
  The committee believed that these seven core compe-
tencies support Mn/DOT’s mission, vision, and goals.
                                                                         U.S. Department of Transportation
                                                                         Federal Highway Administration
                                                                     • Gather data.
The [review] team invokes the Rule                                   • Solicit participants.
of three when considering positions and                              • Conduct assessment.
candidates. This means that members                                  • Provide feedback.
try to identify three employees who could                              With steering committee
                                                                     approval of the model, Wayne
step into a position—One individual is                               Brede and his staff developed
qualified now to fill the job; a second                              the marketing and education
could assume the job responsibilities                                plan to introduce the model
                                                                     to all Mn/DOT managers and
with some preparation. A third candidate                             then managed the model’s
isn’t ready yet, but the individual                                  implementation throughout
                                                                     the Department.
demonstrates potential and has the
long-term commitment to master the job.                                  Data Gathering
                                                                        This first phase begins with
   Each core competency           in position descriptions,          a senior executive management
is further detailed to help       performance communication,         team review. Here, the Depart-
communicate to employees          career planning, and employee      ment’s decision makers address
the Department’s expectations     recruitment and selection—         emerging initiatives that could
that align behavior with          in addition to the succession-     affect staffing needs. They review
organizational goals. Consider    planning model.                    potential organizational realign-
the desired attributes of the       Wayne Brede, Mn/DOT              ments to support legislative
leadership core competency.       Staffing Manager, chaired the      initiatives and other issues that
They include building             task group that defined the core   could affect resource allocations.
constructive relationships;       competencies and developed the        The succession-planning
taking calculated risks;          succession-planning model for      process begins when the review
acting decisively in a crisis;    steering committee approval        team considers anticipated
communicating clearly and         and endorsement. “The core         vacancies in key management
effectively; taking actions       competencies were the first        positions. The positions might
to improve practices and          step. They make managers           be vacant or newly created.
procedures; and being sought      and supervisors responsible        A manager may be nearing
out by others for counsel and     for regular feedback to their      retirement or scheduled to
advice.                           employees while keeping the        assume another leadership
   The steering committee built   agency firmly focused on           position in the Department.
on the core competencies to       meeting organizational goals.”     The concern then is whether
develop criteria for effective                                       the right people are in line to
                                                                     assume those positions.
leadership. Additionally, the     The Succession-
seven core competencies guide                                           By targeting essential positions,
                                  Planning Model                     the team also begins to identify
Mn/DOT human resource
functions and provide a             With the core competencies       individuals who can perform the
framework for accountability      as the foundation, the steering    job. The team uses a Succession
throughout the Department.        committee developed a              Plan Position Profile for each
Once adopted, the core            four-phase succession-planning     targeted position, which
competencies became integral      model. The model provides a        identifies and prioritizes the
components of the ongoing         competency-based, multitiered      core competencies and defines
performance management            process designed to identify and   qualifications essential to filling
process. They are incorporated    foster the Department’s leaders    that position (see Competency
                                  of tomorrow:                       Rankings box, page 3).
                                                                            M I N N E S O TA

  Solicit Participants
   After the senior executive
management review team
                                         Competency Rankings
identifies high-profile positions        (A = most critical)
that may be vacant in the next
two to three years, it distributes       • Leadership – A
an Interest Survey and Job               • Individual Characteristics – A
Profiles to all senior-level
managers. Participation in the           • People Management – A
succession-planning program              • Organizational Knowledge – B
is, however, a self-selection
process. All Mn/DOT senior               • Technical Knowledge – B
managers must complete the               • Quality Management – C
survey; however, usually less
than half of the potential               • Learning and Strategic/Systems Thinking – C
candidates ask to be considered
for the targeted positions.          phase involves an in-depth           will concentrate exclusively
   The review team then assesses     appraisal of each candidate.         on that area. Continues Wayne
the applications and compiles        Appraisals include a self-           Brede, “We want to know what
results. The team invokes the        assessment, a supervisor’s           the individual has done, what is
Rule of Three when considering       assessment, review of the            the real-life experience. Has the
positions and candidates. This       employee’s interest survey, and      person worked in the Central
means that members try to            a review by a core assessment        Office as opposed to having
identify three employees who         group that includes immediate        more field experience? We feel
could step into a position. They     supervisor, and division director/   that it’s important for candidates
identify one individual qualified    assistant commissioner. It could     to have strong experience on
now to fill the job; a second        also involve a bureau head or        both sides of the business
could assume job responsibilities    other division directors.            because that builds an
with some preparation. A third          Mn/DOT’s succession-              appreciation of practical and
candidate isn’t ready yet, but       planning program is now in its       managerial factors that affect
the individual demonstrates          third cycle, and each iteration      decision making.”
potential and has the long-term      improves the process. The              Mn/DOT emphasizes practical
commitment to master the job.        current program includes             experience over an individual’s
   The survey gathers                a modified 360-feedback              academic credentials. “We’re
information about individuals’       assessment on leadership,            more interested in what
willingness to participate in the    employee attitudes, team             individuals have done
program. Other information           effectiveness, and more. It          professionally, what they’ve
requested includes whether           entails a review with peers,         contributed to the organization,”
respondents are willing to           customers, and coworkers             observes Wayne Brede.
relocate. The survey also asks       before the supervisor’s              Mn/DOT has several senior
candidates to indicate at least      assessment. According to             managers who contribute
three positions in which they        Mn/DOT’s Wayne Brede,                a wealth of experience, without
are interested.                      “The 360-feedback assessment         the academic credentials.
                                     helps us focus on the candidates’
  Conduct Assessment                                                        Provide Feedback
                                     most recent behavior, and most
  Once selected for the              importantly, on their work             An essential component of
program, candidates begin            experience.”                         succession planning is the
the Mn/DOT Succession Plan              For example, if the candidate     feedback candidates receive.
Performance Process. This            is an engineer, the assessment       Respective division directors or
assistant commissioners review
candidates’ 360-degree feedback
assessment information and other     Learning Leadership
evaluations and discussion
session reviews. This information
is then given to the employee by
the immediate supervisor. Once
the candidates review the
                                     D     uring the first round of the succession-planning program, I was
                                           the Director of Human Resources for Mn/DOT. I liked my job
                                     and didn’t think that I was interested in changing, but I also thought
feedback, they meet with             it would be useful to go through the process, especially the feedback
immediate supervisors and            component. I felt that it would help me work better with my staff.
possibly the division director/      So, I completed the forms and met with the review panel. During the
assistant commissioner for           feedback session, panel members talked about the different positions
further review and comment.          involved in the succession-planning program. They described the
                                     capabilities necessary, and which jobs I might be interested in
   Feedback is not mandatory, but
                                     pursuing. Frankly, I wasn’t interested; I was simply looking for
all candidates who request it will   opportunities for professional growth.
receive it. Most candidates feel        Quite honestly, I was disappointed with the level of feedback
that the feedback element is one     I received the first round. I did get some insights from a district
of the most important in the         manager that gave me some insight into the areas where I needed
process. Linda Bjornberg,            more experience. Shortly thereafter, however, the Assistant Director
Mn/DOT Director of                   of Management Operations position became available. Although
Management Operations                I wasn’t looking to move, I decided to apply, primarily because I was
(see sidebar), is part of the        interested to see how my own performance had improved, based on
succession-planning program.         the first iteration of the succession-planning process. They offered
“I found the feedback I received     me the job.
from peers and supervisors to be        When the next cycle came around, I again submitted my
                                     application. This was a much better experience for me because
invaluable. It’s a good learning
                                     I the feedback was much more extensive. I understood better how
experience because you               I needed to grow professionally. The group assessment focused
understand how others perceive       most on my experience and successes rather than on the skills and
your leadership style and you        competencies for the next level.
discover the areas that you             Mn/DOT has developed a valuable model for succession planning.
need to improve,” says Linda         As you go through the interview and feedback process, you get better
Bjornberg. “I’ve found it            insights into how to provide constructive feedback to your employees.
especially helpful in providing      This is especially valuable to a manager who has to make hiring
feedback to my own employees.”       decisions.
                                        Another to understand is that you can go through the evaluation
For more information:                process, but advancement isn’t a given. Just because you’re in the
                                     succession-planning program doesn’t mean translate into automatic
Wayne Brede                          promotion. However, participating in the program is an opportunity
Staffing Manager                     for personal and professional growth. It alerts the organization that
Office of Human Resources            someone is interested in advancing and assuming new responsibilities.
Minnesota Department of              It shows that I am competitive and that I’m willing to put in the extra
Transportation                       effort to qualify for more challenging assignments. The Mn/DOT
395 John Ireland Boulevard,          succession-planning program creates those opportunities.
MS 200
St. Paul, MN 55155-1899                Linda Bjornberg            Director for Management Operations
                                       Minnesota Department of Transportation

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