I recently attended an event focused on transition in government related to the upcoming Presidential election. While I knew that with the change in administration came a change in some key positions, I did not know the extent of the transition across the Federal government or realize that there are approximately 7,000 positions that are subject to change when a new President is elected. I also had not realized the affects on the career civil servants who are charged with carrying on the everyday business of the government. While their current appointed leaders are exiting, the civil service employees must attend to countless data calls and prepare briefing books for the new administration, as well as prepare themselves to defend the current work and justify why they should continue regardless of the agendas of the new appointees. At the same time, career government leaders must deal with the anxiety that the workforce may be experiencing as they think about how and if their work lives will change.
The event included panel discussions and presentations from current and former government leaders who were sharing best practices for agency leaders on preparing for the upcoming government transition. Below are my five key takeaways on how career government leaders can best prepare themselves and their workforce to weather the transition:
- Prepare to defend the initiatives important to you and your organization. New appointees will come with their own agendas and priorities for the organization. If you have current or ongoing projects that you care about and that you think are good for the organization, don’t just assume that project will end with a new administration. Be prepared to share with new appointees the short-term successes and long-term strategies for these projects, as well as how those projects tie to their agendas and priorities. If Congress has budgeted for a program, bring this to the attention of the new leaders. For projects that are no longer strategic or aligned with priorities or organizational needs, use this as an opportunity to close them out and transition those resources to other initiatives.
- Support the transition teams and new appointees. Those coming to your agency will need to learn about your organization’s mission, vision, values, workforce, budget, top challenges, etc. Be responsive by providing new leaders timely, accurate, and factual information and bring things to their attention they need to know. Many new appointees have never worked in the Federal government so the more you and your team can do to show them how things get done, the more trust and confidence you will create from the very start. Become known as person who helps them get things done while also explaining how best to do it.
- Talk to your staff about what they may experience. Depending on the role of your organization, your staff may be inundated with data calls and requests for information from transition teams or new appointees. There may also be a bunch of new people showing up trying to build relationships with your staff. Establish and ensure your staff knows the protocol for who should talk to transition team members and how new appointees should be introduced to your organization. Also, remind your staff that they are here to serve in an apolitical way, regardless of what party is assuming appointed leadership positions.
- Pay attention to all levels of the workforce and their needs. While the majority of the Federal workforce will not be affected by a change in administration, they may not know that. Many have never experienced a transition so think that a new leader will bring sweeping change across every aspect of the government. Take time to reassure those who are anxious that the business of government will continue and that their jobs should, for the most part, carry on as usual. For those working in policy areas or on initiatives that are likely to be affected by the political agendas of incoming appointees, help prepare that staff as best as possible by anticipating the potential scenarios that may arise when the new administration comes to town.
- Remember those that are exiting. While much of the attention will be focused on the incoming appointees, it is important that you help outgoing leaders exit with grace and goodwill. Point them to your HR department or other supporting offices who can help them with transition logistics. Additionally, since those leaving your organization have likely been serving for the past four years, be sure to transition critical knowledge of any current initiatives they are working on to a career employee so that work can carry on after the appointee is gone.
You can minimize the effects of the upcoming transition on your organization and staff by preparing emotionally and operationally for what lies ahead. Remember that human resources departments, special transition offices that have been established within all agencies, and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) are available to assist with transition-related questions or concerns.About Suntiva:
Suntiva is a business transformation and technology company located in Falls Church, VA, serving government agencies. We enable our clients to improve performance through people, process, and technology in significant, measurable, and sustainable ways. We provide mission critical information technology, digital transformation, organizational performance, human capital, and acquisition lifecycle solutions—with great minds and great hearts.