July 25, 2022
How can organizations capture valuable history and expertise before it walks out the door? Since 1979, Mile High Flood District (MHFD) has provided local governments with a variety of tools and resources to give officials advance warning of potential flood conditions in our region. This work supports a critical part of our mission to protect people and property. So, when the Flood Warning Manager of 40+ years started to talk about retiring, we wanted to really explore how local governments use and rely on the services MHFD provides in this area. We also wanted to ensure that these services are cared for going forward in a structure in which we implement best practices for succession planning, which were identified in Part 1 of this blog:
- Talent Pool Development
- Systemic Insight
- Leadership Development (Including Mentoring)
- Career Progression Clarity
- Performance Management Systems
These best practices encompass the District’s big-picture ideals but there are also some very technical components to MHFD’s Flood Warning Program that a good succession plan will need to capture.
The need is to clarify the key work involved, understand the knowledge and skills needed to perform it, and know how those with the skills and knowledge perform the work.
We reached out to our staff and local government partners to fully understand the key aspects of these services through a series of semi-structured interviews. The following includes details extracted from these interviews. The full research project, completed as a CU Denver capstone study by MHFD’s Research and Development Director, Holly Piza, is available here.
To capture the specific information needed to incorporate technical details into the best practices, interview questions focused on the three themes detailed below.
1. Setting a Statement of Mission
Focusing on setting a statement of mission helped identify specific and technical components to inform succession planning for MHFD’s Flood Warning Services. Questions were structured to address three phases: planning for floods, MHFD’s role during an active flood, and post-flood activities. Questions also included which flood warning services were most critical to local governments, how local governments use data, and potential areas for growth within flood warning services – What are we not doing now that we should be?
These questions helped outline a mission statement specific to our role in flood warning. Understanding the mission helps ensure that succession planning efforts are focused on actions that support that mission. Additional steps related to this theme include identifying and writing guidelines to perform specific tasks, documenting processes, identifying target groups for action, and setting priorities.
Outline a mission statement specific to the service/program
Identify and write guidelines to perform tasks, document processes, identify target groups for action, and set priorities
2. Increasing Knowledge-Sharing and Collaboration
Expanding knowledge-sharing and collaboration increases the number of staff familiar with an area of work and helps develop a talent pool. Interview questions for this theme spoke to how the work of the Flood Warning Manager impacts watershed teams and vice versa. These questions helped identify areas where minor workflow modifications can increase collaboration among staff. After identifying which tasks impact which different groups of staff, organizations can consider what role various staff might have in its execution and then assess what communication is needed before, during, and after.
3. Identifying Skills and Expertise Needed to Perform Tasks
Identifying and supporting the skills and expertise needed to perform key tasks is a crucial step to technical succession planning. All interviewees were asked to describe the most important skills and expertise required to manage the Flood Warning Services at MHFD. Based on responses by both staff and local governments, the most frequently mentioned attributes were a combination of both soft and technical skills. These key skills and expertise should be included on relevant job descriptions, identified in the performance management system, and should increase in importance as a person advances from one position to the next within the organization.
Understanding needed skills and expertise can also inform potential “stretch projects” and training opportunities that contribute to an individual’s leadership development.
A Plan for the Future
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Interviewing both staff and local governments helped us understand the mission of MHFD’s Flood Warning Services, identify areas where we can increase knowledge sharing and collaboration among staff, and identify key skills and expertise needed for the Flood Warning Manager. At MHFD, we were very lucky to find an external candidate who fit the description and brought invaluable expertise. Ideally, succession planning starts well before someone in a key leadership position announces their retirement. However, taking the steps needed to implement good succession planning practices is always a valuable investment regardless of the timeline.