Dissecting a failed transition: a case study.

Author:Rust, Kenneth L.
Position:Case study

As chief administrative officer (CAO) for the City of Portland, Oregon, I worked with staff to better understand the workforce needs and demographics of the city's office of financial management (OMF). I found that nearly half of the OMF workforce would be eligible for retirement within three years, making it imperative to prepare the organization for what looked to be a significant loss of talent and institutional memory Building on my initial analysis, we developed a succession plan based on the needs of each part of the organization, identifying strategies and techniques that could be used to help manage the workforce changes of each OMF bureau.

OMF's succession plan included a number of strategies: building and strengthening relationships with the community (especially educational partners) to draw talent to the city; investing in the training and development of existing employees, enabling them to grow more quickly into higher level manager and supervisory positions; considering ways that organizational structures could be changed or modified to capitalize on underlying strengths; identifying the specific needs of certain employee groups (e.g., information technology or fleet services/mechanics) to develop targeted strategies for recruiting talent to these positions; and attracting and retaining a workforce that reflects the diversity of the community we serve.

The plan provided a useful road map to help prepare the organization for the coming wave of retirements. The Great Recession slowed the expected pace of staff turnover, but the strategies identified in the plan were useful when several important positions in the OMF's Financial Services Bureau --the chief financial officer (CFO), controller, city treasurer, and financial planning manager--all turned over within a 12-month period beginning in 2009. Using a combination of external recruiting, internal promotions, and strategic reorganization, these positions were filled with minimal near-term impacts.


The organization seemed well-positioned for a new CAO when I decided to resign in 2011. The OMF's enterprise resource planning (ERP) project, which was difficult and draining on the organization, had been completed two years earlier and was in run-and-maintain mode. Key leadership changes within the Bureau of Financial Services had been completed, and leadership of other OMF bureaus was stable. The city's overall financial health was good, as the effects of the recession had yet to be fully felt. The transition was timed to occur in July, comfortably in advance of the annual budget process, which begins in the fall.


Having worked on succession planning for OMF and overseen leadership changes within OMF bureaus, I had a deep understanding of what works and what doesn't work for the city. I also had the benefit of knowing the attributes and experience of the past city CAOs, the requirements of the...

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