HR and tech managers aren’t on the same page

Plans for bringing on future IT leaders need improvement, study finds.

There is a disconnect between federal human resources officials and information technology leaders over what measures are effective for bringing on the next generation of IT leaders, according to a new report.

While federal HR leaders say they have put succession planning efforts in place, many agency IT operational managers have developed their own internal succession planning amid a perceived lack of HR support, according to “Bridging the Gap in Federal Succession Planning,” which was released Tuesday by the American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council.

In addition, all IT operational managers surveyed said their agency’s succession planning program and ongoing HR management strategy were only partially or poorly developed or non-existent. Seventy percent of IT managers said they had not been asked to participate in any agency-level succession planning discussions, ACT-IAC found. “The human capital practitioners felt as though they are delivering succession planning programs as they are required to do by the Office of Personnel Management,” said Susan Grunin, a chair of the group that conducted the study. “However, one of the key results we found is that many IT operational managers are not aware these programs exist in their areas. If they are aware, many find them to be ineffective at producing managers capable of executing agency initiatives.”

The study, based on document research and interviews with federal human capital executives, also said leaders “do not always ensure that their agencies include succession planning as strategic initiatives.” It added: “Internal communications in this area are often ineffective.”

ACT-IAC also found that while some agencies have effective succession planning programs in place, intra-agency succession planning does not consistently take place. The findings come on the heels of another recent report from the Partnership of Public Service that concluded IT issues are a key concern to chief human capital officers, as jobs in science, technology and engineering are considered “mission critical” occupations and agencies have seen hiring delays and a lack of funding to fill vacancies in those areas.

The new report details successful succession planning efforts, for instance at the Commerce Department and NASA. Some successful plans use in-person interviews rather than written applications when making management development choices, since that can more easily indicate potential leaders’ ability to think on their feet and effectively communicate. Other plans conduct “bench strength forecasting” -- looking at current strengths as a way to decide where to invest in resources for leadership development.

ACT-IAC recommended agencies commit to determining why succession planning is not better linked to overall strategic plans. The report also recommended that succession plans include rotational assignments to help foster cross-communication among agency managers, and that training for all new agency leaders include succession planning. OPM also could boost its role in overall succession planning efforts, in part by creating an in-person or virtual education platform and by developing a website with discussion groups, the report said.

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