SEPTA Sets Standard With Succession Planning Program

July 12, 2013

Kristin Geiger
Public Information Manager

One of the best things about SEPTA is its long-term employees who know everything about the system. The unfortunate thing is that when those employees walk out the door, all of their knowledge goes with them. But, SEPTA's taking action to make sure this doesn't happen.

With the creation and implementation of a new succession planning program, SEPTA is making sure that institutional knowledge is getting passed down to the next generation and once again setting an industry standard. The new program, officially referred to as Advancing Internal Management (AIM), will serve as a best practice resource for other large transit agencies and strives to ensure continuity of leadership in the event of planned or unplanned turnover in critical leadership positions across the Authority. To signify the program's start, a kick-off event for the inaugural AIM class and SEPTA's top officials was held on June 24.

Funded in part by a grant from the Federal Transit Administration in collaboration with PennDOT and PennTRAIN, AIM is a multi-year program that identifies SEPTA employees with leadership potential. Utilizing training and mentoring programs, the AIM program prepares these employees for future leadership. The goal is to create a "leadership pool" of qualified candidates with the skills and competencies to be immediately effective.

"We are looking to prepare leaders of the future in keeping with SEPTA's standards of excellence," SEPTA General Manager Joseph Casey said. "This was an intense six-month journey for everyone through the selection process. There were 61 applicants and 35 interviews which resulted in 27 candidates to form the first AIM Pool Class of 2014."

Each employee from the Class of 2014 was acknowledged by members of the GM staff

This first year of the program, considered to be a pilot year, is focused on developing bench strength for 11 key positions grades 43 and above-excluding the General Manager (GM), Deputy General Manager (DGM) and Assistant General Manager (AGM) positions-as determined by the Authority's General Management Team. AGMs selected key positions by ranking positions in criticality of business need.

The 27-member employee class is comprised of a diverse group of individuals that represent various divisions and positions throughout the Authority. Each employee who was selected underwent a rigorous selection process to become a part of the class.

Eligible applicants were required to submit a resume, career statement and three letters of recommendation. Each applicant then underwent a behavioral interview comprised of HR's Senior Director of Employee Services, Director of Recruitment, Director of Training and Development Director of EEO, AA and Employee Relations and Director of Workers' Compensation. Candidates also participated in a persuasive presentation before SEPTA's succession planning consultant, Dr. Tracey Weiss. Top scoring interview candidates proceeded to the Succession Planning Review Committee (GM, DGM, AGMs, EEO) for final selection.

Jennifer Barrett, SEPTA's Senior Training Facilitator, reviews the day's agenda

Tracy Innaurato, SEPTA's Director of Training and Development and Senior Training Facilitator Jennifer Barrett spearheaded the new program. Innaurato noticed that many of SEPTA's leaders in the "baby boomer" generation were reaching retirement age, which could result in a huge level of turnover. "I knew that their wealth of knowledge would be difficult to replace and realized that we needed a succession planning program to address it," Innaurato said.

With support from the GM team, the process began to evolve. Innaurato credits General Manager Joseph Casey for leading the charge to support a program that is geared toward developing the next generation of leaders internally instead of externally.

"We're unique in that we have a long tenured employee population," Barrett added. "People grow-up here, they develop."

Barrett also mentioned that one of the purposes of the program is to make sure that there is a diverse pool of applicants to be considered for future needs. Part of the candidate selection process included outreach to women and minorities who were eligible for the program.

The next step is for the candidates to undergo an assessment. This assessment involves the employee's manager and direct reports to evaluate his or her leadership competencies. Based on the results of the assessment, the employee might be assigned to a leadership coach, attend executive training classes or conferences. Each class participant will also be assigned a mentor and will be required to participate in monthly activities and complete individual assignments. Current class participants will also be evaluated periodically on their progress.

Barrett and Innaurato stressed that participation in the AIM program does not guarantee that they'll be selected for a key position. When key positions become vacant, program participants will still be required to participate in SEPTA's interview process with other candidates.

Barrett and Director of Training and Development Tracy Innaurato review pertinent AIM program documents