Succession Planning & Leadership Development: Your Utility's Bridge to the Future

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A few years ago, a certain polititian (who shall remain nameless!) used to talk endlessly about “building a bridge to the 21st century.” The “bridge” to which he referred was technology.

As it turns out, he was partly right: technology is an important tool for both the private and the public sector, but having a trained and experienced workforce, managers and supervisors is proving to be another critical piece to building a successful organization in the 21st century. And at this point of the 21st century, changing demographics are demanding that having a sound leadership development and leadership succession planning process in place are of paramount importance for success, or even survival.

The statistics abound as to the impact that aging baby-boomers are starting to have on the workforce. To site a few, Business 2.0 magazine projects a a shortage of 5.3 million skilled workers by 2010 and, bringing this closer to home, American City & County magazine recently cited a study that identified the average age of public works directors to be 50. The workforce crisis is no longer looming; it is here. In this environment, it is fair to ask, “are you prepared?”

Work on this problem has be going on for a number of years with a number of utilities, many of whom have taken a proactive stance in managing today's changing workplace. Quite simply, these leaders understand that to continue to meet or exceed the regulatory, customer, financial, operational, and customer goals of their utility or public works agency, they need to have organizational continuity, which is not easy with today's aging baby boomers. The key to attaining this organizational continuity is succession planning. We have found time and time again that this means having a sound leadership development and succession process in place and an effective performance management system to insure implementation.

What is leadership in today's world, how do we develop it, and what does it take to make a difference? John Kotter in his book, Leading Change, states that leadership “..defines what the future should look like, aligns people with that vision, and inspires them to make it happen despite the obstacles.” Dr. William Schneider, author of The Reengineering Alternative and a TAP Resource business partner, defines leadership as “Creating a vision and direction for the organization and mobilizing people to accomplish them.” Dr. Schneider also indicates that to effectively develop leadership within the organization it is important to understand the organization at its core.

Over the last 10 years, we have provided leadership development and coaching services to over 250 managers at all levels of the organization. This presentation will discuss a comprehensive approach built on the following four fundamental principles:

There is not one right way to lead (One size does not fit all)

There are four basic approaches to leadership

Some characteristics of these approaches are similar, just implemented differently

Strategic Focus (how the organization provides value to its customers) determines the right approach to leadership.

Comprehensive leadership development and succession planning involves aligning leadership with the organization for which the leader is responsible. For that reason, we recommend a four step process for effective succession planning:

an organizational assessment,

a competency mapping process covering the effected positions,

leadership training for utility managers

a comprehensive and individualized leadership development process and

succession plan development and implementation consultation.

The development of a sound leadership development and succession planning process is a utility or public works organization's straighest path across the “bridge to the future” and, in fact, taking this approach is quite possibly an organization's management's best tool in ensuring long-term measurable success for the organization, its customers, and its employees.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2006

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