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The case studies in this Appendix are meant to represent a broad range of

succession planning and management programs drawn from previously published

accounts. They represent both best-practice and typical-practice cases.

Read them and note the similarities—and the differences—that exist in succession

planning and management efforts across a spectrum of organizations.

Case 1: How Business Plans for Succession:

Matching Talent with Tasks

With 61,000 workers in more than ninety countries, Dole Food Company Inc. has

talent all over the world. Only a few hundred of those employees are in top

management at the 151-year-old company headquartered in Westlake Village,

California, which produces and markets fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Trouble

is, Dole doesn’t have comprehensive knowledge of who these managers are or

what they can do.

To be sure, business-unit leaders know their own direct reports well—their

strengths, weaknesses, experience, and career goals. The problem is, these leaders

have no way to share that knowledge with other business units. If a key job

opens up in North America, the business-unit leader wouldn’t know if the perfect

candidate worked in another Dole unit in South America. Dole has no way to

match its top managerial talent with its executive needs.

But that is changing. The highly decentralized company is launching a succession

planning process, supported by Web-based software, through which

Dole executives hope to rectify their inability to promote the best and the brightest

across the corporation.

‘‘We are looking to execute an organized process where we will identify

weaknesses and strengths of our people and build plans to deal with that,’’ says

George Horne, Dole’s vice president of administration and support operations.

Source: Bill Roberts, ‘‘Matching Talents with Tasks,’’ HR Magazine 47:11 (2002), 91–93. Used with

permission of HR Magazine.


 ‘‘We also want to identify areas where we will need to bring in some people from

outside to fill some gaps at the top.’’

Knowing Your People

Succession planning used to mean that a company president hoped his oldest

child would join the family business and replace Dad someday. If not the oldest,

then any child would do. Today, succession planning—also called workforce

planning or progression planning—means having the right person in the right

place at the right time for the right job, says Ren Nardoni, senior vice president at

Pilat NAI, a Lebanon, New Jersey, subsidiary of Pilat Technologies International

Ltd. of London. It means knowing your people; knowing their strengths, experience,

and career goals; and knowing where they need development. Succession

planning helps HR and managers know what to do if a position becomes vacant.

‘‘You’re looking for the vulnerabilities of the organization,’’ he says.

Succession planning has grown more important since the 1980s and picked

up steam in the 1990s. These days, experts say, most Fortune 500 companies take

succession planning seriously, and many smaller companies embrace it. Marc

Kaiser, a consultant with Hewitt Associates in Lincolnshire, Illinois, says savvy

companies recognize that they must be prepared to tackle the leadership gap

created by retiring baby boomers. The ability to easily automate succession planning

using the Web also drives interest. ‘‘It is easier now, and that’s one reason

people are doing it,’’ he says.

Most companies that adopt succession planning automate it with software.

Nardoni estimates that 50 percent to 60 percent of the Fortune 500 and 30 percent

of the largest 2,500 U.S. companies have installed succession planning systems,

either stand-alone software or the succession-planning module in their HR management

system (HRMS). ‘‘Our average client starts with succession planning for

between 150 and 250 positions. The minute you get above 50 to 75 positions, it

becomes a pain in the butt on paper,’’ he says.

Government agencies, such as the Federal Aviation Administration, also embrace

succession planning, Nardoni says, because they have to plan for people

moving in and out and retiring. However, the government’s succession planning

initiatives don’t have the same intensity as those of the Fortune 500, he adds.

Succession planning correlates positively with the bottom line, says Nardoni.

Kaiser points to a 2002 Hewitt study, ‘‘Top 20 Companies for Leaders,’’ that

shows that companies with reputations as good places to work have stronger

succession planning and commit more resources to it, including the CEO’s time.

Hewitt surveyed some 348 HR executives and CEOs at 240 publicly held companies

on various leadership topics, identifying companies that succeed in attracting,

developing, and retaining leaders, and noting the practices that influenced

their success.

Dole’s Culture Change

Succession planning was one of several corporate-wide initiatives Dole launched

in the past 18 months to decrease decentralization in an attempt to improve the

Case Studies on Succession Planning and Management 339

bottom line, Horne says. The company was No. 353 in the Fortune 500 in 2002

with revenues of more than $4.6 billion.

Historically, Horne explains, Dole’s seven business units were so autonomous

that corporate wasn’t much more than a holding company. When Larry

Kern became president in February 2001, he set out to keep as much decentralization

as made sense while adding some corporatewide accountability and


Succession planning (Dole calls it progression planning) was one such

change. The process itself would require a change of culture and could become

an agent for further culture change. ‘‘The idea of succession planning is contrary

to being highly decentralized,’’ says Sue Hagen, vice president of HR for North

American operations, who led the effort.

Although Dole’s annual turnover rate among top management is less than 10

percent, succession planning was on its radar screen for years, says Hagen. ‘‘Talent

is scarce. Time and cost to ramp someone up in our business is difficult and

costly. It makes going outside more difficult.’’

Hagen talked informally to all corporate executives, and the leaders and staffs

of each business unit, to generate consensus for succession planning for corporate

positions—corporate officers, business unit presidents and their direct reports.

The initial group would be about 100, she says. Next year, another few

hundred will be included.

The reaction was mostly positive, Hagen says. ‘‘We got a range of responses.

It was more an issue of education, especially for the businesses based outside the

United States. We had to educate them to what the objectives were going to be

and why we do it centrally rather than decentralized.’’

Senior management approved the project, and Kern is especially enthusiastic,

Hagen says. ‘‘He wants us to maximize the internal talent we have.’’

Defining the Processes

Hagen’s next step was to hold a series of in-depth interviews with the executives

to determine which succession planning processes were needed and how often

they should be conducted. The goal was to reflect as much of their thinking as

possible. ‘‘One division wanted to review succession plans on their people six

times a year. Another didn’t want to do it at all,’’ she says. Hagen compromised:

Succession planning will be conducted twice a year. She also identified four competencies

on which everyone would be evaluated: accountability, business acumen,

multifunctionality (cross-training), and vision/originality.

Kaiser and another Hewitt consultant, Lisa Labat, assisted Hagen with the

Dole project. ‘‘One of the first questions we ask organizations is, ‘What are the

business needs?’ ’’ says Labat. They also ask, ‘‘What is your business today and

where are you going to be taking it? What does that mean for the talent you need

in place, especially at the top?’’

Hagen did not want software to dictate the process, nor did she want to create

a process and then search for software that exactly fit. Instead, she started to look

at software while developing the process itself, looking for a package that is

flexible, needs little customization, and is easy to learn. The Hewitt consultants

pointed her toward several products but did not participate in the selection.

Hagen also networked with other HR professionals who had adopted successionplanning


Many HRMS software suites have an optional succession-planning module,

but neither Dole nor its business units have an HRMS. Since most employees are

farm or factory workers, there is not much need for the detailed information an

HRMS provides, says Hagen. ‘‘It would be overkill.’’ In a way, the succession

planning software Dole adopted will become a mini-HRMS for top personnel,

she adds.

Hagen also wanted an application service provider (ASP) model. Outsourcing,

including payroll, is common at Dole. Hagen didn’t want to own and support

technology, and she didn’t want the small corporate information technology staff

to have to work on it.

About 20 percent of the requests for proposals that Pilat NAI sees request an

ASP model, and 50 percent want information about that option, Nardoni says. He

expects 25 percent or more of his business to be ASP-based in the next two years.

Hagen identified products from nine companies and asked for presentations

from four. She chose Pilat NAI’s succession planning software because it was

cost-effective and flexible. The inner workings of the system are invisible to Dole.

Pilat NAI runs the software on one of its servers for a monthly fee based on

the number of users who will be system administrators plus a flat fee for the first

1,000 records stored on the software. Hagen serves as vendor manager, and a

coworker handles day-to-day contact with Pilat NAI regarding development,

troubleshooting, and user issues. The contract spells out confidentiality and firewall

protection for the data.

Hagen began the project in March, selected the software in April, and began

installing in May. The project began to roll out in September, and Dole expects

to produce the first reports for management by the end of this year.

A Plan for Each Manager

Installation required less than 10 percent customization and did not require the

full-time involvement of anyone at Dole. One HR person pulled data from the

payroll system and fed it into the succession-planning database, but that was a

onetime task. The basic data gives users a starting point.

The users—top managers—access the program from the Web with a password.

They fill out a resume, including career interests, and note any mobility

restrictions. They assess themselves on the four competencies. When they are

done, the system automatically notifies their manager, who does an assessment

and indicates whether he or she thinks the individual could be promoted. The

manager also assesses overall potential and the risk of losing the user. This assessment

then goes automatically to the division head, then the divisional HR

director, then Hagen.

Case Studies on Succession Planning and Management 341

All assessments will be pulled together in a report, to be reviewed by Kern,

Horne, legal counsel, and the chief financial officer. Hagen will use the information

to create a career development plan for each individual, including seminars

she’ll organize. She’ll also direct business unit leaders to potential candidates in

other units when they have appropriate openings.

‘‘The beauty is, for the first time we’ll have a database that ties together these

talent metrics and can serve as a clearinghouse for people available for opportunities,’’

Hagen says. The system will also help Dole identify where it has talent

gaps so it can better recruit from outside, adds Horne.

Dole’s corporate management hopes all business units will eventually adopt

similar succession planning processes and software, Hagen says. ‘‘I view this as

a pilot, a very visible pilot,’’ she says. ‘‘To get the buy-in of individual business

units, we’ll show them that this was adopted by their senior management and

that it works.’’

Case 2: How Government Plans for Succession:

Public-Sector Succession—A Strategic Approach to Sustaining Innovation

In the public and private sectors alike, demand for change is the one constant.

There is a loud call for leaders who can accommodate change personally and

who can initiate and drive broad changes in their organizations. These demands

make sense but raise a troubling issue. By relentlessly insisting on change, are

we risking the loss of innovations recently realized? This is a particularly salient

question for public-sector agencies, which are currently under attack from all


In this article, I assert that while change must be on the agenda of any public

agency for its very survival as well as for the public good, it is just as important

to ensure that gains achieved in one administration be given a fair assessment

and not be jettisoned, without review, to the god of change. Indeed, the importance

of ‘‘sustained innovation’’—essentially keeping change alive—is an increasing

challenge for public agencies.1

Will innovative programs created as a response to social problems be allowed

to live out their ‘‘natural’’ lives, or will they be killed off before their time, independent

of performance and outcomes? This issue is particularly acute in the

transition between elected or appointed government officials—especially in a

highly politicized environment that limits government’s capacity to continue efforts

across administrations. Moreover, one critical tool available to the private

sector, succession planning, is rarely used by public agencies because the executive’s

fortunes are generally tied to a particular administration. Many public-sector

leaders have devised strategies for continuing efforts across administrations.

Source: Ellen Schall, ‘‘Public-Sector Succession: A Strategic Approach to Sustaining Innovation,’’

Public Administration Review 57:1 (1997), 4–10. Used with permission of Public Administration


Some establish support beyond the government, for example, from the business

community or other local ‘‘elites’’; some obtain early bipartisan political support.

Still others avoid program demise by identifying a champion linked to the incoming

administration so as to have a voice ‘‘inside,’’ or by creating wide support

within the agency (and other agencies) so that the new governor or mayor hears

a consistent message. Finally, some administrators have succeeded in winning

national recognition for their innovations so that discontinuing them is a perceived

political risk.

As important as these approaches are, innovations also can be sustained by

cabinet secretaries or agency heads engaging in succession planning, even

though these people are as vulnerable to shifting political winds as their superiors.

In fact, this level, where so much actual and potential innovation resides,

represents a real opportunity for both preserving innovations and transferring

them to subsequent regimes—provided the agency heads can, and will, extend

their strategic vision beyond their own tenure. It is no longer sufficient to achieve

change, difficult as it may be. The public-sector leader must learn to consider not

only what can be but what will be, how what is achieved can be sustained. This

requires future-oriented strategic thinking, which I argue must include attention

to succession planning. Succession planning done well involves preparing the

agency for a change in leadership, but it also includes assessing what has been

valuable and how that can be preserved and transferred to the subsequent regime.

It is this strategic, sustaining innovation aspect of succession planning that

I focus on in this article.

First, I shall look at how research on succession in the private sector is both

helpful and hindering for public-sector succession planning, especially in the

realm of sustaining innovation. I will also examine the research that exists in the

public sector and its relevance. I describe a series of constraints or barriers that

must be overcome if succession is to be taken seriously in public-sector organizations.

I present a case study drawn from my experience as Commissioner of the

New York City Department of Juvenile Justice, where I served for seven years

and managed my succession in a way that enabled the innovations that had been

put in place to be retained and further innovations based on these to be created.

I discuss the four interconnected strategies devised to implement this succession

and show how they can help both in overcoming barriers to taking succession

seriously and in shaping the legacy of a public-sector organization.

Succession and Succession Planning: A Brief Review of the Literature

Most articles on succession and succession planning begin with a familiar lament:

executive-level transition merits more attention than it gets in the literature

(Rainey and Wechsler, 1988; Greenblatt, 1983; Gordon and Rosen, 1981; Austin

and Gilmore, 1993). The relatively few authors who address the issue in the context

of the public sector point out the even more serious gap on that side. The

National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), anticipating significant re-

Case Studies on Succession Planning and Management 343

tirements in the Federal Senior Executive Service beginning in 1994, began a

serious look at succession planning in the early 1990s (NAPA, 1992). The NAPA

researchers also remarked on the lack of attention to public-sector transitions. In

an article written in 1993, although published later, Farquhar refers to the ‘‘rapidly

expanding’’ literature on succession (Farquhar, 1996), and in 1995, she edited a

special edition of Human Resource Management on the topic of leadership transitions

(Farquhar, 1995).

Both the problem in the public sector and its consequences have been described

by Rainey andWechsler (1988), who argue, ‘‘Whether one adopts a broad

or more specific approach to organizational performance and productivity, effective

transition management is essential to achieving positive results.’’ At the same

time, the authors characterize executive transitions at all levels of government as

‘‘marked by serious deficiencies in preparation, orientation, and communication’’

(p. 45). However, while noting that some research exists on the political management

of transition at the presidential and gubernatorial levels, the authors do not

make use of the broader literature on transition and executive succession that

would help guide an analysis of transition and change at the agency level—

particularly within, not between, administrations.

Various frameworks help conceptualize transition generally and the issues

that surround it. The most useful begin before the actual succession event (Rainey

and Wechsler, 1988; Greenblatt, 1983; Gordon and Rosen, 1981) and draw attention

to what Rainey and Wechsler call the objective as well as subjective domains.

But there is something missing even here. Greenblatt, for example, begins with

what he terms the ‘‘anticipatory’’ stage but fails to capture the opportunity for a

strategic view of this moment. Gordon and Rosen point out the need to attend to

the time before the new leader arrives, but they still start with the new leader’s

being chosen. Rainey and Wechsler describe transition as a major ‘‘strategy influencing’’

event. This stops short of grasping transition’s full potential to make, not

just influence, strategy. They write as if the departing leader has no role in shaping

the transition.

Although the literature gives some attention to the person leaving (Kets de

Vries, 1988), more is given to the new leader and his or her dilemmas (Gouldner,

1950; Greenblatt, 1983; Gilmore and Ronchi, 1995). In a particularly interesting

article on leadership during interregna, Farquhar (1991) examines 43 Legal Service

Corporations and analyzes the dynamics and impact of interim administrations.

Other research distinguishes the important dimensions in which cases differ,

arguably the most significant being the reason for departure. Not all CEO successions

are equally interesting for theorists. Fredrickson, Hambrick, and Baumrin

(1988) suggest that firings and voluntary departures offer the most meat because

only then are real choices made; their work focuses on dismissals. Austin and

Gilmore (1993) also highlight the importance of the reason for transition. They

outline various reasons and cite previous works on each—retirement, term expiration,

protest, reassignment, illness, or death—but select for case analysis the

leader who chooses to move on to a new opportunity. They are especially helpful

in suggesting explicit strategies the departing leader can use to manage the exit

process. On the topic of contemplating one’s successor, Austin and Gilmore

(1993, p. 52) comment, ‘‘It is striking how many executives have known that they

will be leaving within a year or two and have not found a way either to focus on

leadership succession or to expand the talent to help the organization cope with

a change.’’

This is the territory that my article attempts to plumb further: the voluntary

decision to leave, planned and discussed in advance, as opposed to the sudden

and traumatic leaving that Farquhar (1996) has written about and strategically


Taking Succession Seriously

It is a serious matter that succession planning in the public sector, especially

below the presidential level, has not, until recently, received much attention in

the literature. However, a more critical issue is that it has not received much

attention in the actual world of public service. This omission, in part, reflects the

fact that leaders in the public sector have themselves not taken the issue of succession

planning seriously, except for obvious concerns like elections and mandates.

Doing strategic executive searches in the public sector is difficult, but that

is a secondary factor. What is primary, I suggest, is changing public-sector culture

so that focusing on succession and beyond becomes a hallmark of strategic leadership.

The public-sector executive must begin to consider the end right at the

beginning. The pull to get consumed by the demands of the present is strong but

must be resisted. Creating a picture of what the leader wants to leave behind will

actually help focus strategic choices as well as direct the leader’s attention to

often overlooked strengths of the existing organization.

Public-sector leaders must surmount four types of barriers to taking succession

seriously: (1) The leader’s reluctance to take up the succession ‘‘task’’; (2)

The assumption that succession issues are beyond the scope of the leader’s work;

(3) Confusion about how the succession task should be framed—is it a matter of

replacing oneself or of strategic ‘‘positioning?’’ and (4) Lack of information about

how to take up the task—how to plan for succession in the midst of a shifting

political environment and given regulatory and political constraints.

Reluctance to ‘‘Deal’’ with Succession

In The Hero’s Farewell, a study of 50 prominent, retired, private-sector CEOs,

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld (1988) discusses the ‘‘heroic self-concept of the departing

leader’’ (p. 3) as having a great influence on succession. Part of that self-concept

is a ‘‘sense of heroic mission, a feeling that one has a unique role to fill and that

only the hero is capable of carrying out the responsibilities of the job.’’ Sonnenfeld

describes this attitude as ‘‘a barrier to the hero’s exit’’ (p. 62). The greater the

frustration with the heroic mission, and the more attached to the ‘‘heroic stature’’

Case Studies on Succession Planning and Management 345

of the office (another aspect of the heroic self-concept), the longer the CEOs

Sonnenfeld studied stayed on the job (p. 69).

Sonnenfeld groups CEO attitudes toward departure into four categories ranging

from complete reluctance to willingness. Monarchs will not leave voluntarily

and either die in office or are overthrown. Generals leave with great reluctance

and then plot comebacks. Ambassadors leave gracefully and maintain amicable

ties to their old organizations. Governors are pleased to serve only a limited time

and then leave to do something else, maintaining little contact with the company.

Monarchs and generals are clearly the most averse to acknowledging that the end

draws nigh, and that factor affects the likelihood of a succession planning process

occurring at all.

Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries (1988) also writes about the reluctance of corporate

CEOs to tackle succession planning. As does Sonnenfeld, he focuses on the

retirement-age CEO in the private sector who has to overcome the ‘‘hidden fears

that plague us all’’ (p. 57) to face stepping down.

Drawing direct parallels between public- and private-sector research on succession

must be done carefully. Because the public sector has more short-term

leaders than institution builders, one must take particular care in using the categories

Sonnenfeld has illuminated. Nevertheless, the public sector has its share

of reluctant-to-leave leaders. Certainly there are generals who believe, against all

evidence, that there is some chance they can survive even an unfriendly transition

of mayor or governor and thus are averse to planning for a succession they do

not want to happen. One also finds monarchs who are so imbued with their

heroic sense of mission that they find it unthinkable that they ever would be

forced to depart, no matter how unreasonable that belief may be. They therefore

resist any attempt to broach the idea of succession, much less the planning for it.

The public sector has more than its fair share of governors, too. They seem

an unlikely group on whom to depend for succession planning. Their investment

in the agency is often minimal, as is the agency’s in them. The hope for planning

must lie with the ambassadors, primarily by encouraging them to enlarge the

scope of their vision to include the task of succession planning.

Assuming That Succession Is Beyond the Scope of the Leader’s Work

Beyond personal reluctance lies the power of the group norm. The public sector

is focused on the here-and-now, and authority is thought to be given, not taken


Both the private and not-for-profit sectors have a clearer focus on the future.

While the American business community is sometimes criticized for attending too

much to the short term, as compared to the Japanese, for example, it is clear that

there are mechanisms and institutionalized roles within the private sector to carry

the perspective of the future: the stockholders and the board of directors, if not

the CEO. Regina Herzlinger (1994) has argued that this focus on the future and

‘‘intergenerational equity’’ is among the most significant responsibilities of the

not-for-profit board. These future-oriented mechanisms and roles are weak or

nonexistent in the public sector, certainly at the agency level. Those outside government

often call mayors and governors to task for budget wizardry that risks

future crisis for present peace. If agency heads are held accountable at all, it is

for their management of day-to-day problems, not their investment in the future.

The literature’s lack of attention to accountability for the future both underlines

and reinforces the current situation. As more researchers turn their attention

to this issue, it is possible there may be some shift in the public’s expectations. It

is likely, though, that it will need some greater push than that. Teaching in both

graduate school and executive education programs can have a great impact. Just

as faculty try to set a standard that expects strategic leadership from public-sector

executives and discourages a narrow focus on fighting fires, teachers can extend

their understanding of what it takes to be strategic. Faculty can ‘‘raise the bar’’

and draw a new picture of what excellence in the public sector demands: an

attention to the future as well as to the present.

Confusion About the Succession ‘‘Frame’’

Succession planning, even in the private sector, has all too often been regarded

as a replacement issue, not a strategic responsibility to be shared among the

organization’s stakeholders (National Academy of Public Administration, 1992;

Kets de Vries, 1988). That is, the intent is to replace X by Y, who has similar skills

and training. What is missing is the link between the vacancy, or the forthcoming

vacancy, and the organization’s strategic needs (Gratton and Syrett, 1990)—

particularly those related to preserving the innovations it has achieved. Unprecedented

global competition is forcing companies in the private sector to rethink

succession planning in this strategic light, and those failing to do so are increasingly

being ‘‘punished’’ by either the market or their competition, and usually by

both. I would argue that the need for such strategic thinking is equally acute in

the public sector, albeit motivated by different factors. The approach, however,

seems long in coming. Although some states have moved toward a more strategic

view of executive recruitment, this effort has generally been initiated only after

the leader has resigned or been terminated.2

Difficulty of Managing Succession in a Turbulent Environment

There are actually two challenges to managing succession: technology and turbulence.

Public-sector leaders have limited access to search technology and search

firms; they may not even understand the steps in a strategic search process. The

literature is thin on the subject and offers few clues about how to proceed. Turbulence

now exists in all three sectors. It is not just in the public sector that strategic

planning must somehow be both short- and long-term. The source of turbulence

differs by sector (competition versus election, for example), but the swirling confused

winds that each produces can make the process more complicated anywhere.

What separates the sectors is their reaction to turbulence.

Public-sector leaders too often allow the turbulence to limit their scope of

action (‘‘there will be a new mayor so I have no control’’), whereas private-sector

Case Studies on Succession Planning and Management 347

leaders are expected to ‘‘manage’’ the turbulence (‘‘how can we move into this

new market and fast?’’). Elections need not doom the process of executive succession.

If the first three barriers could be overcome and leaders had the will—were

expected to plan for succession and saw it as a strategic task—the technology

could be acquired and the turbulence acknowledged but not succumbed to.

Keeping these barriers in mind, we turn to an example of how a public-sector

succession can be managed successfully and how hard-won innovations can survive

the transition.

Managing a Public-Sector Transition: A Case Study

The New York City Department of Juvenile Justice was created as a separate

executive-branch agency in 1979. I served as its commissioner for seven years,

from 1983 to 1990. During my tenure, the department accomplished two major

goals. We revitalized a bureaucracy that had originally been part of a ‘‘megaagency’’

and had lost all sense of purpose and efficiency before being reincarnated

as a separate department in 1979 (Gilmore and Schall, 1986).We developed

a clear mission and role for juvenile detention. Overall, we created an innovative

organization, and believed that sustaining our innovations and the impetus to

innovate were critically important.3 The executive staff of the Juvenile Justice

Department had become a team in Katzenbach and Smith’s (1993) sense. We had

moved from being preoccupied with handling an endless supply of short-term

issues toward building the capacity for and the pattern of looking ahead. Crucial

to this focus was creating the notion of case management as a way to make real

our newly defined mission of custody and care and to explore its implications for

the children we served and the staff attending to them. Although I was offered

opportunities to leave the department early on, I determined that two additional

goals had to be reached before I felt ‘‘finished’’ enough to depart. The first involved

institutionalizing our case management program throughout the agency.

The second was receiving final city approval of our plans to replace a much

maligned secure detention facility with two new, smaller, community-based facilities.

By early 1988, these goals were well on their way toward accomplishment,

and I believed the time for new leadership was nearing. I discussed my role

in the transition process with Tom Gilmore, an organizational consultant to the

department and author of Making a Leadership Change (Gilmore, 1988). It is to

his thinking and framework that we owe much of the work that followed, beginning

with a retreat, in the fall of 1988, for the executive staff.

Launching the ‘‘Finishing Up’’ Phase

During this multiday retreat, we began by discussing how our group was currently

faring and what work each unit in the agency would be undertaking in the

next two years. Then, each executive staff member outlined what his or her own

time horizon was likely to be, and how that did or did not dovetail with the

work to be accomplished. In essence, we acknowledged we were launching a

 ‘‘finishing up’’ phase, with all that implied: pride in achievement, exhaustion from

the effort, disappointment about unrealized goals, and full doses of the irritation

and affection built up over the years. I announced my intention to leave at this

time but did not actually leave for 18 months.

We then turned to issues of both legacy and succession: legacy to ensure that

our innovations would survive and succession as a major strategy. As to succession,

we determined that we preferred someone from our own ranks. By the end

of the retreat, not only had we ‘‘chosen’’ our candidate, the assistant commissioner

for secure detention, she had begun to see herself as a possible successor.

But how could we ensure that our legacy would be preserved? We invented four

questions for ourselves, which we attempted to address simultaneously during

the retreat and for the next year and more. We saw these challenges, in fact, as a

set of Russian dolls, each nested in another:

How could we get our candidate appointed as the next commissioner of

the Juvenile Justice Department?

If this failed, how could we get someone else who would continue our

innovations and our vision?

If this too failed, and a nonsupporter was appointed, how could we keep

successful innovations alive?

If all else failed, could we leave a ‘‘treasure map’’ so a future supportive

commissioner could rediscover what we had done?

We tackled these questions simultaneously by scenario-playing, by anticipating

pitfalls, and by creating alternative paths—what Bardach (1977) calls the work of

‘‘dirty-minded implementors.’’ Our strategies are discussed below in reverse

order from the list of questions.

Designing a Treasure Map

The idea was, if all else had failed, to provide the next supportive commissioner

with a series of clues about our efforts—our treasures. We decided, for example,

to leave behind the following:

Traces of each of our innovative programs, rather than cutting any one (in

the face of significant budget cuts) to spare the rest

At least one staff person for each program so it could be fairly easily resurrected

A good written record in files and public documents about our accomplishments

Champions for each major initiative

More generally, we knew we were leaving behind a staff imbued with a vision of

innovation and excellence.

Case Studies on Succession Planning and Management 349

Our support and acknowledgment of the staff’s good work had been a hallmark

of our administration, and we counted on their enhanced capacity to carry

forward much of the innovation.

We were not naive enough to believe that, if discovered, our treasures would

get resurrected under the same names and exactly in the same way. That was not

the goal. We were not looking for eternal life; rather, we hoped that the clues

might somehow provoke new ideas to sustain our momentum and direction.

Keeping Successful Innovations Alive

The two new tactics we pursued were preparing people and ‘‘hardwiring’’ the

system. We also took advantage of previous strategic decisions to help preserve

our legacy of innovative programs.

Preparing People

By early 1989 the executive staff began identifying talent at the next level down

within each unit. Determining the criteria for such identification was not a simple

matter, however, and provoked heated debates about overall skills, vision,

agency mission, managerial ability, and other factors. Nevertheless, we compiled

a list of about 30 people and then assessed each person’s strengths and weaknesses

and the likelihood of the individual’s staying on with the agency. We

specified what each needed for professional development and began connecting

her or him with appropriate opportunities—pledging that we would watch out

for each other’s staff and help them along the way. From this review, for example,

we drew upon the talent of a staff assistant with the potential of developing

managerial capacity and targeted a heretofore overlooked senior operational

manager for more cross-agency work and exposure to the overall system. As we

grew to understand who would be leaving, we discussed who could be groomed

to take over.

Compiling this list helped immensely in focusing our training resources. As

we learned of various city-wide programs, for example, we referred to our list so

people on it could be offered these opportunities.


Some things in organizations have a life of their own; they go on against almost

all efforts to change them. At the Juvenile Justice Department those things included

the forms used to process kids. I remember two years into my tenure

finding forms in use that predated the 1979 creation of the department as a separate

agency. This infuriated me then. Later, it intrigued me. What about those

forms made them survive despite our efforts to create new systems? They seemed

almost like permanent fixtures of the agency; they were hardwired. In a deliberate

effort to create an equivalent method with equal sticking power, we turned

our attention to what we hoped might be our version of those old forms: the

department’s newly developed case-management computer-tracking system. We

put a great deal of energy into moving that ahead. We believed that if a system

was in place, hardwired, which in effect systematized the case management of

individual children and reported data, it would carry a great deal of weight. We

knew that weight could easily become inertia: it would take an effort of significant

proportion to shift away from it.

Our focus on hardwiring also extended to the department’s external relationships,

particularly in the realm of oversight. ‘‘Blessed’’ with multiple agencies

overseeing our work, we figured that if they became accustomed to receiving

certain data, reported in certain ways, they would be likely to request that information

and format subsequently and exert some pressure toward our case management

approach and system to receive it.

Strategic Decisions

Earlier, we had decided to run a community-based aftercare program ourselves

rather than contract it out; doing so involved tremendous effort, including establishing

new civil service positions. We felt that in an (inevitable) financial crisis,

it would be easier for the city to cancel contracts than to authorize layoffs, and

we were right. We experienced successive rounds of budget cuts but were able

to hold on to at least a core of staff. Also, our intensive home-based program,

Family Ties, an alternative to costly state placement, was positioned as a revenueenhancer:

each staff person should not be charged to our budget as a cost, we

insisted, but instead counted as saving the state and city together $70,000 per

child placed with Family Ties. As a result, the Juvenile Justice Department actually

added positions in the program when the overall budget was cut.

Finding a Successor Who Would Continue Our Efforts

Because New York City was facing a mayoral campaign (between David Dinkins

and Rudolph Giuliani) as we were devising our legacy and succession strategies,

we designed scenarios for each candidate based on whom he might want as

commissioner of the Juvenile Justice Department. We brainstormed a range of

issues including values, ethnicity, and gender and considered people fitting various

profiles. We wanted to be able to present a list of real candidates if someone

asked—and to present that list even if no one did. We then went on to think

about who would likely be influential in the new mayor’s decision-making process

and whether we knew them or knew someone who did.

Getting Our Candidate Appointed

David Dinkins was elected, and his approach to appointing commissioners was

decentralized, bordering on the chaotic. Committees named for each agency

were asked to interview candidates and make recommendations to the mayor. I

knew the person chairing the Juvenile Justice group and talked with her directly.

Along with others, our candidate was interviewed; she was recommended and

ultimately selected to be the new commissioner.

Case Studies on Succession Planning and Management 351

Managing the Feelings

Although the decision to leave the Department of Juvenile Justice was strictly my

own, and I strongly attempted to ensure that the transition was smooth, the process

was hardly easy. Indeed, years after, when I began writing this article, I

thought that I had announced my intention to leave six months prior to my departure—

only after checking notes did I realize it actually had been 18 months. This

confusion reflects the difficulties involved. There were issues of authority, over

hiring, for example, and the natural tension each of us felt between being ready

to move on and reluctant to leave. Managing one’s own succession is not a simple

affair, which is why, in the public and private sector, the issue of succession itself

and the process of seeking a successor are so often badly handled.

Yet I believe that when a team has invested as much as we had in creating

and innovating organization, the work is unfinished if you have not attempted to

think strategically about its continuation. Today, the department’s case-management

system and the Aftercare and Family Ties programs are all in place, although

reduced by budget cuts. While my successor remained committed to the agenda

we had developed together, she took the agency in new directions with a focus

on prevention. She remained at Juvenile Justice for four years and her successor

has worked hard to keep the basic programs in place and move the agency


Moving Forward

How can we persuade public-sector leaders to take up the task of succession?

Sector does not matter when it comes to the leader’s dark side; the wish to believe

in one’s own immortality and to stay in control (Kets de Vries, 1988) can be

found in leaders across sectors. Although leaders in all sectors confront relentless

demands on their time and energies, private-sector cultures work more powerfully

to stress the need to plan ahead. We will have to cultivate that emphasis in

the public sector if we seek it. We can begin by searching for stories or case

examples of successful and strategic public-sector transitions. We can attempt to

set the expectation through education, solidify it through public attention, and

seek to attract ambassadors to the work of the public sector.

This is not the easiest of times to build a focus on the long term, however.

There is a serious disconnect between the demands on, and expectations of,

public-sector leaders and their lengths of stay. Perhaps the ‘‘connect’’ is all too

clear: as citizens we ask a lot, offer little in terms of understanding and support

(let alone compensation), blame easily, and reward infrequently. In any event,

the average tenure of public-sector agency heads is less than two years. Given

the impact of such a brief tenure on expected results, advice is being offered

about how to shorten the learning curve or reach full speed more quickly. These

observations, while well intentioned, seem inevitably to fall short. Public-sector

leaders need to stay longer and focus more on the future to ensure the quality of

government we need.

Democracies offer citizens an opportunity, through elections, to signal their

preferences, and elected officials have the right to create new directions and

change course. Yet both citizens and elected officials must avoid ‘‘change for

change’s sake.’’ Not only can that attitude slide all too easily into simple-minded

government-bashing, with the public increasingly losing respect for any government

programs and any government worker; it also severely constrains government’s

capacity to go forward and build on the best of its efforts—in other words,

its capacity to sustain innovation.

Both the public and those in the government need to learn to honor the past

and build upon it. We must begin creating the expectation that the public sector

can, and should, focus on the longer term. As I have suggested in this article,

senior officials, whether elected or appointed, must not only think strategically

during their tenure but also be oriented beyond their tenure. Developing the

willingness and ability to devise an effective approach to succession planning is

a crucial step in that process.


The author wishes to thank Bob Behn and the participants in the 1994 Duke

University Faculty Seminar on Organizational Innovation in State and Local Government,

sponsored by the Ford Foundation, for their reactions and assistance in

working through issues of public-sector succession. Katherine Farquhar demonstrated

extraordinary generosity in offering a thorough and thoughtful critique of

an earlier version of this article. The comments of the anonymous reviewers are

also very much appreciated. Finally, Tom Gilmore’s earlier assistance and continuous

support deserve acknowledgment here.