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Case Studies

Best Practice Case Study

Organization: City of Kansas City, MO
Contact(s): Gary O’Bannon, Director of Human Resources

Organization Profile

Organization has approximately 4300 full-time employees (filled positions), 5000 total FTEs with a City Manager form of government with a Mayor and six members elected within districts and six members who reside in those same districts whom are elected on a city-wide basis. The City council sets policy and the City Manager oversees City operations.

Their HR department is a full service department of 41 employees with traditional divisions such as education/ development, compensation and classification (records), retirement, benefits, labor & employee relations/EEO and diversity, HRIS and talent acquisition. They have a competitive exam process; however, written testing was eliminated in the mid 90s except for firefighting positions and legal secretary. They are not governed under civil service. However, there is a Human Resources board, appointed by the Mayor that serves as the final appeal on disciplinary actions of suspensions, demotions and terminations.

Business Case for Change

Human Resources made several observations about their current employee population and potential employees: 1. An average of 33% of current employees eligible to retire within the next five years, 2. A noticeable decline in the quality of the applicant pool over the last five years, and 3. A precipitous drop in the hiring rates due, in part, to a budget methodology of funding vacant positions at the minimum salary.

Call to Action (Recruitment and Retention)

Gary O’Bannon, Director of Human Resources and Tom Briggs, Compensation Manager crafted the Workforce Advancement Model (WAM), by using some of the informal concepts they had in place but had not formalized, as well as research of the best practice models used in industry. In essence, the Workforce Advancement Model is an expansion of a strategy first created in the 1990s by both Mr. O’Bannon and Michael Kitchen when they headed up the HR Divisions of the Parks and Aviation Departments respectively. Mr. Kitchen now serves as the HR Labor Relations Manager. The goal was to tailor the program to the public sector so they didn’t have to rely on consultants.

The Workforce Advance Model (WAM) was initially introduced to senior leadership, but shortly thereafter, a notice from the Office of the City Auditor announced a performance review to answer the question, “Has the city developed a succession plan to maintain institutional knowledge, expertise, and leadership continuity?” As a result, O’Bannon and Briggs pulled back the roll-out until the conclusion of the audit and presentation to City Council. After a few tweaks, discussions began in earnest with department directors and key staff, HR Liaisons, directors and the union, AFSCME Local 500, outlining the process and working with the Finance and Budget staff to ensure sustainability of the plans. The organization moved rather quickly to implement the informal methodologies previously in place.


WAM has assisted departments in stabilizing staffing structures, which is critical to long-term success. The back-office departments e.g. law, procurement, finance, HR have experienced early success, which may not be a surprise since these areas are generally expected to be the most forward thinking departments when planning for the future. The more traditional operating departments are also becoming comfortable with moving to a competency-based recruitment and promotional structure.

Key Relationships

There were two internal partners critical to the success of this initiative. One was the Finance Department. Sustainability is always a key success component of most HR initiatives, particularly succession planning. The Finance Director immediately saw the long-term value of developing talent within the organization, in addition to recognizing the need to mitigate the potentially crippling institutional brain drain of knowledge experienced with large-scale retirement forecast over the next three, five and ten-year period. The Budget Office is a necessary review partner on each proposed WAM to determine whether the potential costs of employee movement is sustainable. Often-times we discover that it is worse to launch an initiative and have to pull it back as opposed to not having launched the initiative at all. KCMO leadership took steps to try to avoid that possibility.

The second critical partner was the City Manager who obviously has veto power on any initiative. Troy Schulte expressed his support of the initiative by way of action and not just words. His suggestion to memorialize the WAM in an Administrative Regulation under his signature is the highest level of commitment a City Manager can exhibit. Additionally, the WAM was very much supported by the City Council. The City Auditor’s Office has even taken advantage of the WAM!

Lessons Learned/Challenges

  • Departments were lacking in education regarding strategic planning and employee retention until this program was “officially” adopted and communications and training were launched more aggressively.
  • Departments feel more comfortable engaging in the process since there is an established framework to go from and know it is established and (visibly) supported by HR.
  • Departments feel as though there is more of a HR Partner connection and are asking for reviews/guidance/ etc. from HR before establishing their WAM.
  • WAM’s have increased significantly and are better written with clear, established goals for employees to obtain with communication/framework/guidelines by HR.
  • While some of the operating departments did not engage immediately at the level expected, most are now developing plans for review ahead of the next budget cycle.

Measuring Success

The results have not been formally documented but feedback has been received from the departments where they are receiving higher rates of acceptance of job offers, particularly in entry level positions subject to the WAM. In addition, higher satisfaction has been expressed amongst those subject to the WAM because of a clearly defined career path committed to by the organization.

Additional benefits of WAM include:

  • Creation of qualified pools of candidates to fill key positions
  • Establishing a sense of stability in critical positions needed to sustain a high-performing public service commitment, which includes uninterrupted service delivery to our citizens
  • Identifying workforce needs to better target required employee training and development
  • Enhancing employees’ ability to respond quickly to address environmental demands, and
  • The opportunity of knowledge retention through the use of our Knowledge Transfer Tool, which is required under the WAM (and otherwise)

Best Practices Case Study