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Planning for Future Leadership
By Ken McElroy , Montana DOC - HR Bureau Chief
Published: 06/06/2011

Fisherman a Baby boomers – it’s a phrase that strikes fear into the hearts of human resource professionals these days.

As a confirmed “boomer” myself, I can easily appreciate the cause for such concern. I have a target date for retirement in my mind and it is not so very distant. So do many others. We boomers are at that age and career position where the siren song of those lazy, hazy days of retirement beckons to us.

Of course, there is plenty of disruption right now with respect to retirement plans, and challenges like rising costs for retirees – such as health insurance – make it hard to lock in such plans. But, inevitably, whether we delay a year or two, we will be taking the plunge sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, we in human resources are painfully aware that we are not ready for the large-scale departure of employees in critical leadership roles. That’s not to say we don’t see bright stars waiting in the wings for the opportunity to lead, but we have barely begun seriously needed efforts to construct a succession planning piece in the agency.

A National Institute of Corrections (NIC) program is under way, designed to give some agency employees a leg up in preparing to compete for such leadership positions. Charles Geary in the HR Bureau has been researching more permanent and focused options toward the goal of building an ongoing program with agency-wide application for identifying promising talent and providing them the opportunities to set career goals and receive valuable training and mentoring.

The goal of these efforts is to lay the foundation for smooth and seamless transitions when leadership changes.

Montana State Prison is one place where the highest ranks are ripe with my fellow boomers.

Given the high importance of maintaining a smoothly operating men’s prison, Department of Corrections Director Mike Ferriter charged the Staff Services Division, specifically the Professional Development and HR bureaus, with the design and implementation of a pilot project to identify potential successors and provide some preparation for those individuals to step into the top leadership positions there as the occasion arises.

One concern reflected in this year’s employee survey was the lack of opportunities for career planning and progression. The current NIC program is providing numerous employees with one such opportunity.

The next step is a pilot project that focuses on succession planning for specific jobs: warden, deputy warden and associate wardens at MSP. It will lay the foundation for a future effort that will address each identified “critical leadership role” in the agency, such as division administrators, bureau chiefs and facility administrators.

The pilot will identify executive level talents and competencies for those positions and provide job-specific training and mentoring to a group of people who are committed enough to complete a rigorous, intensive program while continuing on in their normal capacity in the agency.

Because these leadership roles at MSP are so critical, it is our intent to use the entire agency – more than 1,300 employees – as our initial talent base. The program will be designed to facilitate participation, whether the employee resides in Glendive, Kalispell or right there in Deer Lodge.

It will be rigorous and challenging and will provide those who have minimum qualifications, express an interest and are selected with an advantage when any of those leadership positions are advertised for recruitment. Neither participation nor successful completion, however, will provide any “guarantee” of promotion.

At present, the plan is to award selection points in future recruitment processes for the positions covered. The training and mentoring involved will be credited to an individual’s training record and the person will be awarded management experience credit in future recruitment processes throughout the agency.

Employees should watch for the announcement of an opportunity to participate in this project and are encouraged to step up if they think they are ready. Regardless of what they may hear or suspect, no one is a pre-selected candidate.

This is an opportunity for employees to become part of the future for corrections in Montana, to prepare for crucial leadership roles in this agency that provides a critical service to Montanans in ensuring their public safety

Editor's note: Reprinted with permission from the Montana Department of Corrections monthly News Letter "Correctional Signpost" 2011 No. 2


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