National Academies Press: OpenBook

Developing Transportation Agency Leaders (2005)

Chapter: Chapter Four - Recruitment and Retention of Leaders in State Departments of Transportation

« Previous: Chapter Three - State Agency Overview
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter Four - Recruitment and Retention of Leaders in State Departments of Transportation." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2005. Developing Transportation Agency Leaders. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23300.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter Four - Recruitment and Retention of Leaders in State Departments of Transportation." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2005. Developing Transportation Agency Leaders. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23300.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter Four - Recruitment and Retention of Leaders in State Departments of Transportation." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2005. Developing Transportation Agency Leaders. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23300.
×
Page 16
Page 17
Suggested Citation:"Chapter Four - Recruitment and Retention of Leaders in State Departments of Transportation." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2005. Developing Transportation Agency Leaders. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23300.
×
Page 17

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14 Before discussing succession management and training pro- grams directed at agency leaders, a sound recruitment program for quality individuals should be in place. Leadership devel- opment begins with the recruiting process, whereby quality individuals are brought into the organization and groomed to become future leaders. This process is complex, as anyone knows who has engaged in attempting to identify leadership potential or the lack thereof. Regardless of difficulty level, recruiting should include careful screening for individuals who may be candidates for future positions of responsibility. One DOT executive director would speak at all new employee orientations and each time single out the engineers, inform- ing them that they were not hired to spend the rest of their careers as engineers in training or resident engineers, but that they were expected to rise through the ranks and become key leaders. Once an agency has invested many years of training and experience in an individual, it becomes very costly to lose that person to another employer; therefore, an effective retention program should parallel an agency’s recruitment efforts. Past review contained in NCHRP Synthesis of Highway Practice 323: Recruiting and Retaining Individuals in State Transpor- tation Agencies indicates how challenging it is for state DOTs to have an effective retention program. In that report, a strong relationship was drawn between significant factors for recruit- ing individuals and those effective in retaining employees: basically, they were one and the same (Warne 2003). The survey sent to the states asked for responses to a series of 10 questions regarding recruitment and retention efforts specifically related to current and future leaders. The follow- ing sections reflect the input received and provide an inter- esting perspective on how states are individually and collec- tively handling this important issue. RECRUITMENT States were first queried about recruitment programs and activities. Fifty-four percent reported a specific recruiting plan. When asked if they hire new employees with an eye toward future leadership potential, 83% responded posi- tively. Although not all new hires will eventually become commissioner, director, or agency secretary, many may cer- tainly be promoted into other significant leadership positions, including district engineer or directors of planning or engi- neering, and so forth. Hiring “future leaders” is necessary before beginning any leadership development program in a transportation agency. Many employers have had an opportunity to interview, assess, and hire individuals for their organization at some point. It is a challenging prospect to read a résumé, ask rele- vant questions, check references, and otherwise attempt to determine if a candidate is suitable. Quite possibly, nearly every reader of this report can relate positive experiences where exceptional individuals were hired and then became extremely successful. Conversely, each reader could also probably recall a hiring decision where the outcome was less satisfactory and may have resulted in the individual’s dis- missal. Sometimes, personnel rules can make a person’s removal an untenable option. In other cases, leaders have failed to remove individuals when it is clearly evident that a change was necessary. Tolerance of poor performance then becomes the leadership challenge for the agency. With a lim- ited number of positions to fill, restrictions on full-time employment growth, and other constraining factors, the need to hire only the best becomes more crucial each year. Transportation agencies were asked to identify the key attributes sought in considering candidates for important hires. When interviewing possible future leaders, it would be help- ful to be able to tell if the candidate was able to see the big picture and function as a strategic thinker. In this survey, 83% indicated that this attribute was specifically assessed in the interview process. The states also employed other means for determining an individual’s future leadership potential. The following shows state responses to the question, “What specific actions does your agency take to ensure that it hires future leaders?” Answers are provided in descending frequency of mention. • Use specific questions in interviews that would reflect an applicant’s leadership potential, 88%. • Look at past leadership related activities, 83%. • Consider references provided by applicants, 83%. • Conduct multiple interviews with each candidate, 80%. • Contact current supervisor, 71%. • Administer tests or other instruments that would indi- cate leadership potential, 13%. CHAPTER FOUR RECRUITMENT AND RETENTION OF LEADERS IN STATE DEPARTMENTS OF TRANSPORTATION

15 With the exception of the final answer, there is a strong indication of attempts in the interviewing process to identify future leaders. Clearly, most survey respondents use specific questions and other means to determine both a candidate’s suitability for a position and future leadership potential. Some additional responses to this question are interesting and disclose more tools for achieving the objective of find- ing future leaders. These responses included the following: • Review applicant against leadership core competencies. • Use outside recruitment agencies. • Consider academic record for management and leader- ship curriculum. • Consider diversity of professional and managerial work experience in the transportation field. • Use an “assessment center” type approach to hiring leaders with living or role playing exercises, including external stakeholders and partners (i.e., engineering consultants) as part of the exercise development and evaluation team. • The Maryland State Highway Administration asks quality orientation questions as part of the interview process and rates the responses. These responses allow insight into how seriously state DOTs take the recruitment process and the creative means they use to clearly identify the highest quality candidates. Although not all apply in every state, others might consider these ideas. Two specific skill sets are examined when hiring leaders in an organization. First, they must be technically qualified. Second, they must have the leadership skills necessary to assist the agency in its quest for success. This synthesis did not explore the technical side of this process, but focused solely on the leadership element. States were asked to identify the core competencies that are important for leaders in their organizations. The responses were detailed and involved many common themes. They included competencies in the following: • Leadership • Communications skills • Team building • Change management • Ability to work with the public • Coaching, self-motivated • Decisiveness • Strategic thinking • Partnering. The Maryland State Highway Administration, an agency that has aggressively pursued leadership and employee devel- opment initiatives, also considers humility criteria for recruit- ing evaluations. Technical abilities are not considered unimportant or irrelevant by any means. However, the need to have techni- cal skills is a given, and an assumed competency in this area is the starting point for evaluating all other factors. For a full description of state responses to the question of core compe- tencies, refer to Appendix C. RETENTION Some employees will leave any organization; no agency has a zero turnover rate. Reasons given for leaving are varied and often unique to individual circumstances. Therefore, the need to fill positions is a never-ending process and replacing any employee, especially a valued leader, is expensive. Some of the costs can be easily defined in monetary terms. These include the costs of recruiting a replacement and training a new employee and, perhaps, even the higher salary required to recruit a new leader. Other costs are less specific, but may have a bigger impact on the organization, including work- flow disruptions, morale issues, and distractions incident to others taking on additional duties until the new hire is able to assume all of the responsibilities of the position. Certainly, it is almost always better to retain competent leaders than to see them leave the agency. The survey questions attempted to determine the kinds of problems transportation agencies face in retaining potential leaders. The state responses follow in descending order: • Competition with the private sector, 61%. • Pay and benefits, 59%. • They do not want to deal with the administration/ bureaucracy, 26%. • They do not want to leave technical areas of the agency, 26%. Other factors mentioned, but less than 25% of the time, were: • Reluctance to contend with internal politics. • Inadequate funding for projects. • Perceived favoritism or other problems with promotions. • Lack of training. • Reluctance to contend with external politics. • Lack of challenging work. Note the clear break between “Competition with the pri- vate sector” and “Pay and benefits” and the other factors. Clearly, these are the two most critical areas for agencies as they address retention of key individuals, including leaders, in their organizations. In a previous synthesis, recruitment and retention prac- tices of state DOTs were explored in greater detail (Warne 2003). A review of that information will supplement what was reported by the states for this project. That report,

16 NCHRP Synthesis of Highway Practice 323, focused primar- ily on practices relating to agency professionals, including engineers, information technology professionals, and others. Although recruiting and retaining leaders was not the sole purpose of that review, it may be said that many of the pro- fessionals hired by these agencies will become leaders. In that synthesis, it was found that key factors contribut- ing to individuals leaving their state DOT positions included the following: • Future salary opportunities, 62% • Current salary, 47% • More promotional opportunities, 28%. In addition, when employees were queried about their rea- sons for joining the agency in the first place, they noted that state benefits, including vacation, health, and retirement poten- tial were important. Interestingly enough, this review indi- cated that these same benefits also attracted those who left for private-sector positions and then returned to state employ- ment (Warne 2003). The key point of this retention discussion is that in attempt- ing to retain departing leaders and future leaders doing noth- ing is not the answer. Understanding why individuals leave and effectively addressing those issues is something each state DOT must do. It has been found that many employees who are considering leaving do not understand the subtleties in how benefits differ between the public sector and the pri- vate sector. Often, state DOT benefits are far better but are not understood to be so by the employees. Given the trend toward benefits as a critical factor in attracting and retaining quality individuals, a simple analysis may be a powerful tool to use. OTHER ACTIONS Assuming that upholding the status quo was not the final answer to retaining quality leaders, the states were asked what more could be done to increase the likelihood that capable individuals will be prepared and retained to fill important future leadership/management positions. The answers were thoughtful and held valuable insights for those studying ways to become more effective in their own methods. A few are offered here, with a full listing found in Appendix C. • Launch “Executive Workforce Development Program FY2004.” • Reinitiate an aggressive succession planning model that focuses on leadership traits and competencies with con- tinued development of executive coaching and skills training. • Introduce a formal succession planning and leadership training program with thoughtful attention to department values and leadership characteristics, which are more comprehensive than the informal ones currently in place. • Improve pay; encourage mentor/protégé links for suc- cession planning; modernize the basic organizational structure to include manageable spans of control. (One respondents noted being directly responsible for 16 employees, 12 of whom are senior managers.) Provide more opportunities for leadership and management train- ing, including hands-on opportunities to implement basic and advanced principles. (This individual also reported that a management reorganization plan had been sub- mitted to a sister agency for approval and that they were awaiting such action before being allowed to proceed.) • Develop a more comprehensive workforce development plan for the agency. Various components of a plan are being addressed. For example, leadership and manage- ment training is being offered to prepare employees for management positions and organization charts are being reviewed to identify positions that will be vacated because of retirement options that will be exercised dur- ing the next 3 to 5 years. However, it all needs to be pulled together in a systematic approach. • The Michigan DOT is part of a pilot program within the state of Michigan to close the gap between values that are important and the evidence of those values in our behaviors. In the pilot, the Michigan DOT leadership team will participate in a 360-degree leadership profile. (A 360-degree profile includes querying subordinates, peers, and superiors regarding an individual’s perfor- mance.) The plan is to have all managers and supervi- sors participate as subjects, thus giving line staff the opportunity to participate in direct reports. An additional increasingly important area of focus is recruiting women and minorities into positions that will ulti- mately lead them into the senior ranks. Experience has shown the need to actively pursue these efforts. The survey attempted to determine what actions states were taking to prepare women and minorities to be appointed to senior leadership and man- agement positions in their agencies. In response to the question of whether specific programs are geared toward women, states indicated that they were involved in the same training and other programs offered to male counterparts. However, no additional specific programs or special initiatives are offered by any state responding to the survey. Also, when asked if specific programs focus on minority employees to ensure preparation for senior leader- ship positions the answers were similar: minority employees are invited to participate equally in leadership and other train- ing initiatives; however, nothing has been set up to specifi- cally address their needs. Again, a full listing of responses by state can be found in Appendix C. Diversity in the workforce is a growing phenomenon in state DOTs. What was once a very homogeneous group of white male engineers in state DOTs has changed into a work- force where many cultures are represented and women have

17 newfound roles. This has been a positive change for state DOTs and will continue to benefit agencies where greater diversity is experienced. A surprising result of this study is that specific programs that focus on the recruitment and reten- tion of women and minorities are not reported by the states. Although this synthesis did not investigate this topic, there is the related matter of what state DOTs are doing to attract women and minorities to their agencies. Clearly, recruitment is the first step to creating a diverse cadre of leaders. Leadership development starts with the recruiting process and the hiring of capable, high-quality individuals who have core competencies that will help them mature into great lead- ers. States responding to this survey indicated a focused effort on finding the people with not only basic technical skills but also apparent leadership abilities. The states seem to know what they want and are making an effort to attract future leaders. DOTs face retention challenges owing to current and future salary levels. Strategies are in place to improve reten- tion in their leadership corps, but most do not focus on the salary issue because they do not have control over this area of their human resources system. Private-sector competition will always be a factor. Agencies will need to be more aggres- sive in their recruitment and retention practices in the future to ensure the presence of qualified and competent individu- als for key leadership positions in their organizations.

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TRB’s National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Synthesis 349: Developing Transportation Agency Leaders examines practices and innovative approaches that address the development of transportation leadership in today’s work environment. The report covers demographics, recruitment and retention, leadership training, and succession management.

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