Planning for Leadership Changes in the Public Sector

The average tenure of a public sector employee is 6.5 years. This average tenure is nearly twice that of private sector workers, who only have an average median of 3.7 years. As an employee spends time with an organization, there are bound to be leadership changes that impact the daily lives of employees. Leadership changes can be tricky to tackle, especially if you find yourself promoting within the organization. To prevent workplace issues, it is important to plan ahead for leadership and organizational changes in the public sector.

Why Planning for Leadership Changes Is So Important

We want to think that change management is simple. Change has to happen, so why fight it? Unfortunately, many employees struggle with changes in leadership at work and it can be a silent workplace morale killer. Employees might not be outwardly vocal about their feelings, but change can cause morale to suffer and increase employee turnover.

Any company dealing with leadership change needs to approach the subject with a feedback mindset. Leaders must listen and act on feedback from employees.

Unique Challenges to Change Management in the Public Sector

Public sector work is full of changes. While private-sector leaders can stay with a company for years or decades, some public sector work isn't as lucky. For example, some public-sector workers are elected or brought into the company with the change of someone who has been newly elected. In addition, some public sector leaders may only serve short leadership terms.

There can also be a political shift in leadership changes in the public sector, which can drastically change the direction of an organization. For example, many United States Postal Service (USPS) workers had to deal with a recent political shift that greatly impacted the way they handled mail-in votes during the 2020 election season.

Another unique challenge for public sector workers is the Silver Tsunami or Millennial Gap. As many as 40% of local government workers are currently eligible for retirement. As more employees leave, government agencies are finding it hard to convert millennial and Gen-Z workers. All of these worker issues are causing a loss in institutional knowledge and organization leaders.

Short leadership terms combined with political shifts, retirement and lack of younger employees create uncertainty and volatility in the public sector.

Tips for Effectively Leading a Public Sector Organization Through Changes in Management

So, now that you know why you have to plan and what makes public sector work so unique, let's discuss tips for announcing leadership changes and supporting employees through changes in leadership at work.

Acknowledging That Change Is Difficult. Listening to Employee Concerns Is Important.

It can be challenging to lead during uncertain times. It can also be challenging to be an employee during a leadership upheaval.

Employees need to feel like their voices are being heard and acknowledged. No one likes to feel like they are going through a huge change all by themselves.

The first step to making the transition work is to level with your employees. Let your team know that you understand where they are coming from. If you've gone through a change in leadership at work in the past, you could empathize with what they are going through.

Communicating Leadership Changes with Transparency and Clear Expectations

How you communicate leadership changes to employees matters, and transparency is key. It's important that you set clear expectations, answer questions as they arise and get answers if you don't have them. Don't be afraid to say, "I don't know the answer to that, but I will write it down and get back to you." Follow-through is essential as you are handling a leadership change.

Sharing New Management Vision to Get Employee Buy-In

As you get ready to usher in a new generation of leadership, first get some excitement and buy-in from your team. Meet with new leaders to start implementing some of the policies that they want to move forward. Even if your first step is to hold a town hall meeting with employees about proposed changes, this extra step is important. It helps acclimate employees to new policies in a non-threatening way. Employees who feel a sense of loyalty to current leaders might feel a bit better about upcoming changes if they knew their favorite leaders were on board.

Introducing New Leadership

There's a reason that there are usually transitionary meetings as new leaders take place in government. These meetings may seem strange from afar, but they help with the transition of power from one person to the next. New leaders can ask questions and get clarity while old leaders begin to understand that their organization is in good hands.

You took some time to introduce new leadership with old leaders present whenever possible. Consider hosting a meet and greet or even letting old leaders come to the office from time to time as they transition out of their duties.

Conclusion: Change Management Starts with Clarity from the Top

Change management isn't easy. Onboarding a new leader in the public sector can disrupt the regular flow of work if it's not handled properly. Great change management starts with clarity from the top of your public sector organization. Ensure that fellow leaders are secure in these changes and pass that clarity on to employees through listening and excitement building.

Jeff Hoye

As Senior Practice Leader, Jeff is responsible for strategic planning, business development, product/service delivery and P&L responsibility. Jeff's expertise is in the areas of organizational strategy and development and large systems change, working with senior leadership teams, boards of directors and management utilizing various teaming structures and innovative strategies. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of South Florida and his MBA from the University of Colorado.

About CPS HR Consulting

CPS HR Consulting is a self-supporting public agency providing a full range of integrated HR solutions to government and nonprofit clients across the country.  Our strategic approach to increasing the effectiveness of human resources results in improved organizational performance for our clients.  We have a deep expertise and unmatched perspective in guiding our clients in the areas of organizational strategy, recruitment and selection, classification and compensation, and training and development.