Succession Planning: A Nantucket Story

Senior local government and utility employees frequently have the most expertise and the deepest institutional knowledge in their organization. However, they are also often most at risk of leaving the organization, either because they are close to retirement or because they have marketable skills that are desirable to other employers.

When these employees leave, it can represent a loss of institutional knowledge and skills that can be difficult to replace. For employees in leadership roles, turnover can also lead to confusion or lack of direction.

Organizations can mitigate these risks with a robust succession plan. Succession planning is more important than ever to maintain effective services due to an aging workforce and strong private sector competition for local government agencies. A succession plan should identify critical positions within the organization where turnover poses the biggest risk of disrupting operations. Then the plan should develop pathways to fill these positions when they become vacant.

Nantucket, Massachusetts is an island community approximately 30 miles south of Cape Cod. The organization faces similar turnover challenges as other local governments around the country, with the added obstacles of extremely limited housing, a high cost of living, and a remote island location. In addition, when the Town approached Raftelis for assistance, several employees in leadership positions were approaching retirement. The Town government did not have a succession plan in place but recognized that without careful planning turnover of these key positions would have an outsized impact on Town operations. Nantucket took proactive action to mitigate this risk and worked with Raftelis to develop a succession plan for critical positions.

Key steps in Nantucket’s succession planning process included:

  1. Identification of critical positions. A project team from Raftelis worked with Town leadership to identify a list of 30 critical positions on which to focus succession planning efforts. Positions were chosen because they play an important leadership role, because the people in those positions have unique skills and knowledge, and/or because those positions are especially difficult to recruit for.
  2. Development of position profiles. After these key positions were identified, the project team met with each of the people in those roles individually and built position profiles based on their feedback, as well as written job descriptions. The profiles detail the specific skills, knowledge, and experience required to be successful in each critical position.
  3. Development of candidate profiles. Town staff worked with the project team to identify specific Town employees who may be able to fill each of the critical positions in the future. The team developed candidate profiles for each key position. The profiles included information on each candidate’s knowledge and skills that would make them an asset to the new role, as well as areas for further development before they would be successful in that key succession position.
  4. Development of candidate training plans. The project team used the gaps identified in the candidate profiles to develop specific training plans for each candidate. The training plans outlined specific steps to fill those gaps, as well as the estimated timeframe for completing each step.

The Town is now using these training plans to implement targeted employee development that helps prepare staff for higher level roles. The succession plan is also designed to be updated regularly as new key succession positions or candidates emerge. Nantucket’s experience can provide a blueprint for other organizations faced with turnover challenges but without a robust succession plan in place.

Steps for Succession Planning