Thousand Oaks Succession Planning Program Builds Employee Base

The City of Thousand Oaks won an Award for Excellence for this project in the Internal Administration category of the 2007 Helen Putnam Award for Excellence program. For more information about the award program, visit

In January 2005, the average age of employees in the City of Thousand Oaks was approaching 50. The city anticipated losing numerous experienced managers and supervisors to retirement over the next five to 10 years — which was a major concern. In response, the Thousand Oaks City Council added employee succession planning to its top 10 priority goals for fiscal year 2005-06. The city wanted to develop an employment base that reflected the community and prepare employees to step up to management-level positions.

Thousand Oaks has many well-educated analysts, accountants and other profes sional-level employees hungry for upward career growth. Because few promotional opportunities existed, these employees were often pigeonholed in departments without chances to manage highly visible projects, make presentations to elected officials or interact freely with other departments and divisions outside their routine daily duties.

Building Interest in Public Service Careers

Attracting students and encouraging them to consider a career in public service became an essential part of the city’s challenge because recent high school and college graduates do not actively pursue public service as a primary career choice. Thousand Oaks wanted to reach these potential employees before they made career decisions — to make them aware of the many opportunities and career paths that local government offers.

The city’s goals included:

  • Developing and enhancing existing employees’ leadership skills to help them advance within the city;
  • Informing students about local government career opportunities; and
  • Working proactively with community groups to promote careers in public service.

At a management retreat in January 2005, the city launched its Succession Planning Program. Involving top management proved invaluable to the program’s success. Each executive manager agreed to chair or coordinate activities of a specific program component, including:

Leadership Academy . This six-month program meets each month for a full day. Classes are held at different locations in the city and include sessions on:

  • The organizational structure of the council-manager form of government;
  • Infrastructure;
  • Public safety;
  • Public-private and intra-agency partnerships; and
  • Presentation skills.

The academy requires attendance at one city council meeting and one public committee meeting, a management book report, independent research and final team projects addressing current issues facing the city.

Mentoring Program. This 12-month program begins with formal applications identifying the participants’ career goals and specific objectives. Applicants are matched with mentors based on skills and areas targeted for development. Group lunch meetings, held quarterly, feature special presentations on topics geared to the group’s interests.

Community Outreach. The Commu nity Outreach Committee has developed promotional materials and presentations geared for college and high school students that outline employment oppor tunities in local government. Through partnerships established with two local universities, this committee conducts classroom presentations and helped develop a curriculum with an emphasis on local government employment. The committee also participates in career fairs, job shadowing events and presentations to local businesses.

Internship Programs. The city offers internships to local university and college students. Each internship assignment includes work in more than one department to provide the most well-rounded experience possible. A second intern ship program for high school graduates provides opportunities in semi-skilled or entry-level positions. Since 2006, internships have been established in several city departments, including:

  • Community Development/City Attorney’s Office, assisting with research on encroachment into open space;
  • Human Resources/Citywide Wellness Programs, scheduling employee fitness programs and brown-bag presentations;
  • Finance/Human Resources, researching options for General Accounting Standards Bureau (GASB) 45 reporting;
  • City Manager’s Office, assisting with public information;
  • City Clerk’s Office/Citywide Records Management, coordinating imaging of public documents; and
  • Public Works/Hill Canyon Wastewater Treatment Plant, apprenticing in treatment plant operations.

Program Produces Positive Results

Of the 18 graduates in the city’s first Lead ership Academy , six have been promoted to supervisory and management positions. The second session of the Leadership Academy is in full swing, managed by a steering committee composed of gradu ates from the inaugural session.

Participants in the Mentoring Program also experienced professional growth and increased confidence. The city’s internal promotion rate is holding steady at slightly more than 6 percent.

City employees report a significant improvement in morale and a high degree of enthusiasm for programs offered. Participation in the city’s Tuition Reimbursement Program, fueled by an education fair held last spring, is now at full capacity.

The city has built stronger intra-agency relationships with California Lutheran University and California State University, Channel Islands , for students in undergraduate and graduate programs. The program, which includes curricula, has established internships for the master’s degree in public policy and administration and bachelor’s degree in political science programs for California Lutheran Univer sity students. A local nonprofit agency, Careers4Teens, works with the city to attract community high school graduates interested in learning and preparing for municipal entry-level and field positions in Thousand Oaks.

Enthusiasm for these succession planning efforts has carried over to newly implemented programs. In January 2007, the “Great Leaders of the Conejo” Speakers Series launched bimonthly evening presentations by local community and corporate leaders featuring discussions on leadership challenges. In spring 2007, the city intro duced a management reading club, Read to Lead, that brings employees from all city departments together to discuss management and leadership concepts. And in June 2007, the Management Certificate Training Program was launched to provide more structure to employee-driven career development training.

Contact: Connie Hickman, human resources director, Human Resources Department, City of Thousand Oaks; phone: (805) 449-2144; e-mail:

This article appears in the April 2008 issue of Western City
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