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FCW : January 2016
BOB WOODS is president of Topside Consulting Group and former commissioner of the General Services Administration’s Federal Technology Service. Commentary | BOB WOODS After the debates, the promises, predictions and, yes, even the elec- tion itself is over, we’ll finally come to the big event for government: the transition to a new administra- tion. When a new president takes office in January 2017, it will have been eight years since the last presidential transition took place. Many senior career executives in the federal government have never been in a leadership role during such a change. Even if they were around for the Bush-to-Obama transition, some important things must be done to prepare. CIOs and IT professionals are particularly affected because their subjects are complex, tech- nology permeates every part of life, and new appointees might have strong ideas about technology. For any senior career executive, preparation and planning are vital. Appointees are usually entering new territory, with few trusted allies and no clue about existing career staff’s capabilities. Their initial contacts are typically a mot- ley crew, who see them as saviors, neophytes waiting to botch their first assignment or recipients of the spoils system. Preconceptions and theories abound. That is why preparation mat- ters. Here are some tips for not only surviving but thriving during a presidential transition: 1. Do your research. Reserve your judgments and your worst fears and instead find out who is on the new team. Delve into their backgrounds, why they took the jobs, what part they played in get- ting the president elected, their generational influences and whom they trust. That preparation is nec- essary before attempting to edu- cate the new team. For example, if the new secretary is a retired corporate executive, briefings might take a different form than those given to a former scientist or professor. 2. Say yes even before you know what the question is. This approach avoids reinforcing the stereotype of the entrenched bureaucrat. New appointees conclude that if the bureaucracy struggles to do routine activities, it cannot be trusted to perform more critical functions. 3. Show new appointees that large organizations can inno- vate. Along with never feeding an ugly stereotype, you’ll want to demonstrate that feds can think ahead and do have ideas about providing better service to our citizens. Many appointees believe the government is off-track, and they want to help get it back where it belongs. Don’t tell them they are naïve, self-centered or out of touch. There will usually be plenty of time to prove or disprove that theory. 4. Offer to brief and educate the new team. Be ready to give a basic briefing about your organiza- tion that includes current issues, good and bad. Media coverage should be addressed because the new person has likely gotten information from those sources. Ignoring bad news does not make it go away and can even give the impression that current agency executives don’t get out much. 5. Make your preparation for the transition a team effort. A team can develop a richer educa- tion package and avoids any unex- pected sources an appointee might have. There is nothing like finding out after the fact that appointees got their information from their bridge partner or their daughter’s soccer coach. 6. Remember that the first six months are critical. Make good first impressions and follow them up with performance and timely delivery. Appointees usually run out of bandwidth after the first six months. Seldom is a new key player discovered or elevated after that time. So make the first shots count. In transitions, as in dueling, second shots are few and far between. n Tips for thriving during a presidential transition Career federal executives face the daunting challenge of welcoming new political appointees in January 2017, but here are six ways to make the process less painful Appointees are usually entering new territory with few trusted allies and no clue about existing career staff ’s capabilities. 12 January 2016 FCW.COM 0116fcw_012.indd 12 12/21/15 11:25 AM
November and December 2015