ROBERT PIERCE

    • Leader & Times

 

Seward County’s fiscal year typically runs from July 1 through June 30, and the past fiscal year saw the retirement of six employees with more than a century of combined experience.

County retirees include Barry Rosengrant with 24 years experience with Road and Bridge, Joe Clay with 22 years working at the fairgrounds, Patti Kirk working 26 years with the county, most recently with EMS, Mike Christian with 15 years at the landfill, Colleen Towns with 12 years in the appraiser’s office and Wanda Covert, who worked 14 years as a child care surveyor with the Seward County Health Department.

With years of experience and talent now exiting the county’s workforce, Administrator April Warden said the county is likewise losing part of what she considers a family.

“If you look at the years of service on all of these,” she said. “They were with us for a long time. They all played a significant role in the county, as every county employee does, but they each had their specialty area, strengths  and they brought to the county.”

Naturally, with that much experience gone, a few sets of big shoes will need to be filled, but Warden said commissioners recently decided as part of their strategic planning to institute a succession planning program.

“Succession planning gives you the opportunity to share that knowledge in your field and still be able to provide the services we do without further disruption,” she said. “You’re always going to lose something when you lose those people, and when you lose the number of years, the knowledge and the skill level they brought to us, the majority of those did a great job in working with others in the department. They’re always going to leave a little void in the system. How do we best approach that? What we’re looking at is succession planning.”

Warden said the current commission is forward looking, and the board is pursuing a succession plan to ensure employees such as the recent group of retirees without experiencing a huge disruption in services.

“It goes far beyond just training employees,” she said. “It’s about looking at the talent we have here. How do we develop that talent inside the organization and implement ways to recruit more qualified candidates to join our organization, which is sometimes hard?”

Warden said even clerical positions differ from department to department.

“Oftentimes when you’re looking outside of the agency or people leaving us to go to private industry, they have a very specific skill level, very specific talent they’ve had because they’ve done a very specific job in the service they provide to the county,” she said. “We’re trying to invest in that program and do some succession planning to be able to address that.”

Warden said in today’s world, recruiting workforce is a huge competition, particularly when it comes to attracting and retaining people and developing talent.

“There are a lot more jobs out there than there are people,” she said. “It’s not just replacing an open position that becomes vacant. It’s about aligning employees with the aspirations they have, with the talent or skills they have and the constant evolving need of the county to provide our employees with the resources and the support they need to grow in their positions and grow into new positions if need be.”

The succession planning process was initially touted as a mentoring and coaching process, and Warden said both mentoring and coaching are a good part of succession planning.

“A good succession plan will help us prepare and transition individuals to take on different roles,” she said. “They may have knowledge regarding their job and be qualified, but a lot of times, you end up sticking people in a supervisory role or a department head role, but we didn’t do a good job to equip them to be ready for that position. A good succession plan will prepare and equip employees to do both.”

Warden said all current and incoming employees are eligible for the succession planning program, and county leaders will have to do a good job about letting employees know they have to be the ones to approach leaders and open that discussion with their supervisor, their department head, the human resources generalist Rosa Conley or Warden herself.

“As managers, sometimes, we fail to identify the best candidates for the position. Seniority doesn’t always translate into competency or effectiveness for a position,” Warden said. “Also as managers, we tend to focus on people who are a lot like us – same personalities, same traits, same experience, same skills. We miss seeing other talents.”

Warden said hopes are to identify candidates with skills and experience needed to succeed.

“They might be a good technical performer,” she said. “Maybe they need some help with their problem solving skills, resolving conflict, participating in a team manner or even having the human capabilities to interact with others or build relationships.”

Warden said county leaders will have these open discussions to know what people’s goals and interests are and how that fits within the county and provide open access to all employees wanting to see career development opportunities.

“It’s going to be a game changer,” she said. “It’s going to be a different approach than what we’ve had in the past. We’re going to have to do a really good job of implementing that, communicating that, supporting what we say our vision is.”

Warden said she feels effective organizations cannot wait for the future.

“We’re going to have to create it by investing our time, thoughts and planning to ensure we have continuity of talent, leaders and front line employees in all aspects of the organization,” she said. “We’re going to have to really look at attrition data and projection for each department. We will have to analyze our existing learning and development programs.”

Warden said the county is working on training and personal development with officials at Seward County Community College’s Business and Industry department.

“We are getting ready to implement the new performance management  and appraisal system,” she said. “We are going to have to up our mentoring and coaching effort, our current approaches to recruitment. We’re already looking at ways we’re having to be more creative, find other ways to get out there, to recruit and bring in candidates into our organization.”

Warden said retaining candidates within the county means less money spent on recruitment and training, which can lead to significant savings over time. She added succession planning also helps the county grow its own talent.

“When we do that, it sends a positive message throughout the county and lets them know we support you, we appreciate you,” she said. “Hopefully, people want to join and stay with our organization if we show we’re willing to invest in them and develop them. It encourages people to take on more responsibility, assume some risks, take on some assignments or responsibilities they normally wouldn’t have thought about doing and celebrating their achievements with them along the way and what they were able to do while they were growing in that capacity.”

Warden said the county is aiming to help all who are interested to improve their leadership skills or other skills to give them a competitive advantage for positions when they do open up.

“If we know they’re really interested in that, we could reorganize a little bit to make that a fit in the organization, and it serves both of us better,” she said.

Warden said succession planning allows the county to create a modern workforce with a different approach than those of the past.

“It will have to be organization wide for it to work,” she said. “It does require a commitment to our long-term strategic view. The commissioners started that with their strategic planning.”

Warden addressed the benefits of succession planning from the mindset of a sports fan.

“We talk a lot about that, but succession planning’s not only at the management or top level,” she said. “It’s throughout your organization The non-supervisory needs at all levels are very important as well.”

Warden said the county has always been reactive when it comes to filling job vacancies, and that will be the case until the succession planning process is implemented to fill immediate needs.

“We’re always try to fill those immediate needs,” she said. “Once we implement succession planning at the vision the commissioners have they’re trying to reach, we can be proactive and address those needs before they arise. We want to exhibit a long-term commitment to the county and develop those individuals within.”

Likewise, Warden said succession planning gives the county a chance to further develop job descriptions to include new directions, expand responsibilities, make adjustments to positions if needed and even reorganize when taking a look at and seeing a talent where somebody can fill in where it helps both them and the county.

“With succession planning, you’re not just considering if a person has been in his or her position for long enough time,” she said. “It’s not really about seniority, but rather looking at that person’s abilities to ensure he or she has the competencies needed to be successful in a new role with us implementing countywide and looking at the talent pool we have and how we can tap into that.”

Overall, Warden said succession planning will influence the county’s greatest asset – its employees.

“It’s going to guide us into thinking about performance, recognizing the potential in others, encouraging individuals to take additional work assignments, try other things, help them identify and sustain a career path,” she said. “There are so many local public governmental service careers I don’t even think people are aware of that are available because of all of the services we do provide.”

Succession planning too, according to Warden, will assist the county in staffing positions and developing individuals both on a professional and a personal level.

“It will help us identify future service needs,” she said. “Things are ever-changing with technology.”

Warden also said succession planning will help county leaders look at current policies and procedures and where changes need to be made.

“It’ll modernize our approach to the times in which we live and the people we’re serving, evaluate and develop those working for us and joining our team, revising what we’re doing for training  or development, but most of all, engage our employees at all levels throughout the county,” she said. “We are creating our future, and we are a team.”

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