Cities Explore Succession & Replacement Planning

October 12, 2020

By Catherine Bennett and Tate Fowler, Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County, GA

Catherine Bennett
Tate Fowler

Ninety four percent of employers surveyed in 2015 by Software Advice reported that having a succession plan positively impacts their employees’ engagement levels. The survey found that nearly all city employees would be more productive, satisfied and present with a program that is proven to impact engagement. What is a succession plan and is it right for your city? To understand what your answer may be, we must first understand the difference between a replacement plan and a succession plan.

Replacement planning is reactive by nature. This type of planning aims to replace a given position effectively and in a short period of time. Replacement plans are on an as-needed basis, simply ensuring there is a candidate in line if an incumbent needs to be replaced on short notice. Some cite this type of planning to consist of “quick-fixes,” relying on employees to be at the right place and position at the right time. Replacement planning focuses on immediate needs and works in the moment to maintain the status quo and continue business as usual. This may be ideal for an organization with a rapidly changing workforce or short average employee tenure. However, if you are in the market for longevity, you want a succession plan.

Seventy-nine percent of employers surveyed in 2015 noted that they already have succession plans in place for mid-level manager positions. However, perhaps the idea can be reinforced for younger generations, just entering low-level positions. Over 90% of younger workers surveyed (aged 18-34) said that working at a company with a clear succession plan—in which they were included—would improve their level of engagement as well. Succession planning does not have to begin or end with one generation of workers— it could be the organizational culture that needs to span decades to keep your organization highly profitable for years to come.

While replacement and succession planning may sound similar on the surface, the two types of programs have different goals. In opposition to replacement planning, succession planning is proactive and makes a long-term commitment to professional development for all employees throughout their career. It ensures that employees can break out of the status quo and move the organization forward through continually enhanced skills and innovative competencies. By utilizing feedback and longitudinal strategies, a succession plan will create a deep pool of potential candidates with wide-ranging skills, who are able to step into and improve future vacancies. Often heavily integrated with inclusion and recruitment initiatives, succession planning aims to plan a better future run by employees who have diverse backgrounds and skillsets, ready to pivot at any time.

The most successful succession planning programs typically follow these five steps:

1. Identify key positions.

2. Identify succession planning participants.

3. Develop the program and prepare the participants.

4. Provide developmental opportunities for participants.

5. Monitor individual and program progress and acknowledge achievement.

As we move into the future of succession planning, we must be innovative. A core Athens-Clarke County (ACC) team built an innovative Succession Plan for ACC’s 1,600 employees. The program developed was dubbed the, “Innovation Ambassadors.”

This is a select group of approximately 30 high-potential employees identified by the manager’s office/department directors and nominated by ambassador alumni. This diverse group of employees comes from the middle of the organization, where the managers are very keen to hear their perspectives, observations and solutions. The program meets once a month for two hours. The group discusses issues that the county is currently facing. They also discuss failures and successes with the ambassadors. The program is semi-structured in that the sessions include:

• Team building

• SWOT analysis

• 10-year financial trend of the government

• Emergenetics Workshop, which provides a clear way to understand the intersection of nature and nurture through the Emergenetics Profile, built on four thinking attributes and three behavioral attributes that every person exhibits.

• Shark Tank Day: Managers and department directors pitch problem statements to the Innovation Ambassadors. They describe the problem (current state) in a document and come to a session to try and “lure” ambassadors to spend the next five months meeting in “Hives” to determine steps on how to get to the “desired state.”

• After five months of working with process improvement tools, “hives” perform a gap analysis. They research what other progressive, innovative governments are doing to address similar issues in their state. If it is a community issue, ambassadors may meet with people/organizations in the community to find solutions.

For more information contact: Catherine Bennett at or Tate Fowler at

This article appears in the September/October edition of Georgia’s Cities Magazine.

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