With a wave of likely retirements coming, process mapping could help government agencies prepare now for staff turnover and the loss of institutional knowledge
Studies have been warning for decades of a retirement wave as Baby Boomers age out of the workforce, in both the public and private sectors. But how can government organizations and other public agencies best prepare to weather this level of staff turnover and loss of institutional knowledge?
The tsunami of current and forthcoming retirements from the public sector has been anticipated for decades, but many organizations have not had the capacity to plan for this talent shift. Some public organizations have indicated they have a lack of tools, resources, or leadership support to engage in succession planning, combined with the fact that departures from the public sector are presently outpacing hiring. In fact, key disadvantage held by the public sector (at least compared to private sector competitors) is that private sector organizations often provide the budgetary cushion for outgoing talent to mentor and train their successors before the retirees formally exit the organization.
Anticipating workforce retirements & turnover
One commonsense approach to managing organizational turnover means behaving in a proactive, anticipatory way rather than in a reactive manner. Conducting a comprehensive organizational needs assessment is a logical first place to start — both by identifying the tenure of your existing workforce and analyzing the anticipated future service delivery needs of your customers. Workforce tenure can be identified — both quantitatively and qualitatively — by calculating retirement eligibility measures for employees and through informal interviews of employees about their goals.
Beyond understanding individual goals, it is advantageous for agency leaders to inventory the skills and competencies needed for service delivery within the organization as well as those skills and competencies held by current employees. Performing a regular audit of job descriptions (even before positions open) can help departments and agencies understand where gaps exist within teams as well as what competencies are held by those employees who may be planning to leave the organization.
Succession planning processes open up opportunities to identify and develop talent within organizations in anticipation of turnover. Retirements often have advance notice in the public sector, but efforts to understand and cultivate talent at middle management levels can better prepare organizations when turnover comes at short notice.
Well-rounded leadership development emphasizes the leadership and learning styles of both managers and front-line staff. There is a risk that succession planning and talent development processes can alienate some within organizations. Processes such as these can help organizations to identify emerging talent, but may conversely identify talent that is no longer an appropriate fit for future organizational needs.
Benefits of internal process mapping
In addition to identifying skills and competencies within organizations, engaging in process mapping is a highly effective way to increase organizational efficiency and enhance service delivery. At a high level, process mapping removes departmental or agency silos and focuses on adding value to products and services while simultaneously reducing waste and inefficiency. Process improvement can reduce waste in public sector processes through clarifying standards, reducing unnecessary internal handoffs, eliminating redundancy in information sharing, while at the same time adding value by enhancing service and reducing customer wait times.
Process mapping is disruptive by nature as it challenges the status quo, so an empathetic approach that reduces team member alienation is important. Discussions around the risks and obstacles within process change, as well as a focus on high-level, sustainable solutions, can contribute to healthy and productive change processes.
Even the best designed processes should be routinely audited to ensure that they are being performed as intended by employees. Effective process implementation requires leadership buy-in from the top, solicitation of feedback from process users, and organizational training across teams on process norms in addition to process audits.
Documentation & employee cross-training
Where process evaluation and public sector turnover come together is through documentation and employee cross-training. In best-case scenarios, there is advance notice of employee departures; however, organizations should be prepared for worst-case scenarios. Cross-training of employees with an emphasis on understanding one another’s roles ensures organizational continuity during times of change.
Processes which are honed and refined through mapping exercises should be documented and stored in centrally accessible locations in order to better on-board employees new to the organization or new to their roles.
One critical facet of organizational turnover can be the loss of both institutional knowledge and subject matter expertise. In instances where knowledge gaps within teams relate to subject matter expertise, employees should be able to access these process change documents and not have to function within the limitations of their own organization.
Database tools are increasingly offering organizations access to templates, checklists, and sample documents, effectively closing the gap on employee subject matter expertise. These subscription-based tools provide on-demand resources to organizations and reduce the need to reinvent the wheel. Similar resources can often be accessed through professional associations at the state or local level, as well.
As government organizations and agencies prepare for industry-wide turnover and assess their service delivery, there is ample opportunity to involve both managers and front-line workers in the change management process. A holistic approach to inventorying skills and competencies organization-wide, as well as a focus on documenting processes, can better prepare organizations for transition, while ensuring continuity of service.