Using workforce retirements as a catalyst for organizational change

Authored by Allison LeMay

As baby boomers near retirement age, the workforce challenges local governments will face are an increasingly hot topic. Workforce pipeline concerns are understandable; according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 62.7 percent of the job openings from 2012 to 2022 are expected to be produced from employees exiting the workforce1. However, this is also an unparalleled opportunity to reassess your government’s organizational structure and incrementally execute changes as retirements occur. In other words, the baby boomer exodus provides your government the opportunity to start fresh and reassess the processes that have “always been done that way.”

As your local government prepares for upcoming retirements, the following strategies will help you advocate for conducting an organizational structure analysis and roll up your sleeves to realign roles, responsibilities and reporting lines based on current and future needs. Though internal personnel could execute the project, for a bias-free review and final recommendations, consider appointing an outside firm with subject matter expertise and an independent voice.

Identify a project sponsor

The project sponsor should not be the project manager. A project manager’s role to move the project forward requires dedicated time for day-to-day details. In contrast, the project sponsor champions the project and emphasizes the importance and relevance of its objectives. When selecting a project sponsor, consider an assistant city manager or director—someone who can communicate the long-term benefits and has access to advocate to decision makers.

Communicate the project’s effect on the community’s mission and vision

This strategy may sound obvious yet is often overlooked. It requires stepping back from day-to-day familiarity and crafting the broader story. Provide a roadmap, set milestones and identify deliverables to clearly describe how your project supports the mission. For example, if your mission statement includes “providing efficient and cost effective services and programs to build a vibrant community,” focus your communication on how services will be improved and costs will be reduced as a result of identifying more efficient reporting lines or realigning responsibilities.

Tie the project to long-term strategic goals

Consider your community’s strategic plan and identify implementation challenges. Would an organizational restructure mitigate or eliminate any of those challenges? If a position’s functions have not been adjusted to accommodate how technology affects workload or communication methods, it won’t properly support a strategic objective to increase access through mobile and online services. Tying an organizational structure analysis to strategic goals demonstrates the contributions it will make through identifying hurdles and creating solutions.

Identify ways in which the project will benefit decision makers

Perhaps your government is starting succession planning or your council recently approved a property tax increase. An organizational structure analysis complements succession planning and demonstrates the intent for efficient use of taxpayers’ money. Build buy-in across the organization by identifying what is important to decision makers and how the project supports their objectives. This can be especially effective within organizations with “idea” competition and limited resources to support competing initiatives. Present an organizational structure analysis in a supporting role for a decision maker’s broader objectives rather than in competition with their own projects.

During an organizational restructure that involves assessing job functions, think critically about how your government operates. A payroll clerk who over the years has acquired the miscellaneous responsibilities to support grant reporting and management may be viewed as irreplaceable—and he may be just that. Disparate responsibilities were assigned based on the employee rather than the position, and therefore are not aligned with a payroll clerk’s typical job functions. Realigning positions with job functions allows your government to reach a broader applicant pool when impending retirements occur and position your future employees for success.

Further, aligning responsibilities with roles streamlines reporting lines, helps your government define expectations for employees and identifies areas to strategically grow skillsets. Proactively investing the time now to conduct an organizational restructure positions your government to compete for employees in the future.

For more information on this topic, or to learn how Baker Tilly state and local government consulting specialists can help, contact our team.


1 Baby Boomers Retirement: An Opportunity for Public Agencies and Nonprofit Organizations to Collaborate, PA Times