Keeping Your Agency on Track in Times of Change
In less than two weeks the United States will elect a new president to lead the nation. While change like this can be exciting, it is also chaotic and anxiety-inducing, especially for public servants. You may find yourself wondering what the presidential transition means for you and your agency and how you can implement successful strategies going into the transition.
So how exactly can one effectively manage in times of change and uncertainty? GovLoop sat down with Ira Goldstein, Retired Managing Director at Deloitte Services, and Sarah Leonard, Senior Manager at Deloitte Consulting, in the recent online training, “Leading and Succeeding in the Public Sector: Effective Management During Times of Change,” to discuss how you can best address the challenges and opportunities of the transition at your agency.
What to expect. Leonard started the conversation by underscoring that knowing the winner of the election in two weeks is by no means the end of the transition process. “At this time, it is like we are entering the third inning of a baseball game, and there is still a lot of baseball to be played,” she said. In order to keep up with the rest of the game, each presidential candidate and many agencies have set up transition teams to prepare for incoming leaders and their priorities.
After the election, the new president will send his or her transition team out to gain a better understanding of agencies’ climates, so they can better prepare for the leadership turnover. Additionally, the president-elect will start filling appointments. “The big lesson for civil servants here is to be sure that you start to build relationships with those junior appointees coming into the office because they are going to have a lot of decision-making power on what does and does not go to the secretary,” Leonard explained.
Some of the main challenges that arise during transitions are cultural differences among new leadership and the old workforce, ambiguous processes surrounding when the new leadership will onboard, and macro trends that are unique, unpredictable factors that weigh in on each transition. Leonard emphasized that “an effective transition will be able to account for a variety of challenging scenarios that could occur on day one.”
How to Navigate. To best navigate the transition at your agency, it would be wise to create your own personal playbook for transition and broader organizational change. This plan should focus on understanding clearly what the goals of the new administration are and then deciding what your goals should be and aligning them with the new administration. Goldstein emphasized that you should do this by identifying key stakeholders in the new administration and your organization, understanding what resources you will have, and establishing the timeframes for change.
In order to develop a successful transition playbook, you should focus on three themes. “First, organize your offensive strategy by mapping out campaign promises to see how they match up with the goals of the new leadership,” Goldstein said. “Then execute effectively in your role because leaders want good managers to be a part of the leadership team, and finally play smart defense and make sure there is oversight.”
Once you have a framework for approaching the transition you can develop your personal brand that will best position you for a successful transition. Your brand should include three elements:
- Personal: Be a listener before you start making decisions. Play well with the new team, and offer innovative ideas without stepping on toes.
- Positional: Make stakeholder connections and make sure you are visible to the new leadership.
- Leadership: Build your technical skills into leadership skills by doing things like developing relationships with the new team while maintaining relationships with career folks. Find out what motivates and inspires the people around you, and be insightful about politics but avoid being partisan.
How to Succeed. Goldstein reminded us that “whether you love change or not it is inevitable and it does not go over well when you look like you regret having to make changes with a new leadership team.” As a result, there are some proactive steps you can take to ensure you are a valued participant in the transition.
First, understand what an appointee’s goals are and what challenges they are going to confront. You can make yourself very useful to the appointee by confronting those challenges and working toward solutions. Additionally, you should be mindful of an appointee’s timeline. Goldstein explained that most government timelines work in two-, four- and eight-year timeframes, and being cognizant of that will help you set realistic expectations for what you can help to achieve.
Second, Goldstein recommended taking on the role of helpful tour guide for incoming leadership. This offers an opportunity to show new leaders what is being done well and to point out what could use some improvement. Additionally, it provides you with personal visibility and demonstrates your value to the leadership.
Finally, Leonard offered up some transition pitfalls to avoid. These include gossiping about past leadership, showing disrespect for the workforce, providing challenges and not solutions, and assuming new leaders are knowledgeable about the agency. In order to counter these, the speakers recommended communicating across levels, listening and adapting to what you hear, and refraining from adapting a defensive position to changes and challenges.
We know the upcoming transition — or any organizational restructuring — is not easy for anyone in the organization. However, with these tips you will be able to develop a game plan that makes change much more manageable. For more information about the Next Generation of Government Training Summit, click here, and watch the full online training here.