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5 Obvious (and Not-So-Obvious) Tactics Federal Employees Can Use to Maintain Momentum During the Presidential Transition


Sean Follin

Date Published

Nov 17, 2016
6 minute read
illustration of stick figure with parachute

On January 21st, a new chapter of the American story will begin. The transition will be a pivotal period for the new administration to set the stage for its path forward. As part of the transition, more than 4,100 individuals selected by the President-elect will parachute into federal agencies across the country to enact the newly outlined President’s Management Agenda (PMA). Each one of those 4,100+ newly appointed individuals will land at the helm of an organization that has worked toward a specific mission for the past eight years. While the plan on how best to achieve the mission may change, your job to deliver on the mission will be the same.

This can be challenging time for you as a Fed leader. You may be faced with a new agency vision, or new priorities may conflict with previous priorities. In some cases, new team members may exert themselves in ways incongruent with an already established culture — as some may not have experience leading organizations of similar scope or nature.

To further compound matters, all of these shifts can occur rather suddenly for the fed team that supports agencies in the interim, as they can only guess what their incoming boss will want.

The following advice is intended to give you an alternative perspective on your experience, which hopefully leads to an insight or two, allowing you to take action if you are stuck or uncertain.

Have a plan.

The countless cliches stressing the importance of planning only further reinforce the obvious need to be prepared, yet it is critical. Spend the necessary time to develop 30-, 60-, and 90- day plans, including specific milestones along the way to keep you on track. However, don’t over plan. We at The Clearing use a concept called DYNAMIC INCOMPLETENESS to illustrate the power of leaving gaps in your plan for others to provide their input, allowing you to enroll and empower them to take coordinated action. One way to practice this concept is to limit the space you allow yourself to articulate your plans — no more than one page, front and back.

Be real.

Look at your agency’s mission, your team, and how well your daily activities help support the mission. What efforts have been successful and what efforts have produced less than ideal results? It’s important to tout successes, and it’s equally important to learn from efforts that didn’t meet expectations. While it can be uncomfortable to discuss shortcomings, it can become a powerful opportunity to shape strategy going forward. One way to accomplish this is to talk about the reality as it really is, or, as Joe Friday from Dragnet says, “Just the facts, ma’am.” If you find yourself offering your unprompted analysis to your new appointee, you may be saying more than you should in the conversation.

Be adaptable.

Your new leader has marching orders, and he or she might take the organization in a new direction, potentially undoing work undertaken during the previous administration. Balancing work-in-progress with new priorities requires an openness to doing things differently. We use the concept COMMITMENT VS. ATTACHMENT in circumstances like this to illustrate the dynamic. By remaining committed to your outcome, but not attached to it, you are free to get there any way you can, as opposed to the one ‘right’ way.

Here are a few that might not be so obvious:

Build the binder. AND create powerful learning experiences.

Even if you read 100 books on ‘how to ride a bike,’ you won’t actually learn to ride until you get on the bike and roll down the hill. The same concept applies for new leaders at the head of organizations. Researchers call this experiential learning. Experiential learning bridges the gap between theories and real-world applicability. You can create powerful experiential learning opportunities for your team by having them interact with your customers and stakeholders. Creating the direct line to customers increases awareness of your organization’s mission and immediately gets them participating in service delivery and mission advancement, as well as affording them a better appreciation of the system within which you operate.

“Do less.”

You may be tempted to fall into a “Jump! — How High?” mindset in an attempt to respond to the many questions and requests of the appointee. In Peter Senge’s seminal work, The Fifth Discipline (a great read if you’ve ever wondered why traffic happens on the Beltway even when there’s no accident, or why no matter what strategic initiative you try, you still encounter the same operational dysfunction), he describes the power of observation. Observation, which is often misconstrued as “doing nothing,” allows an individual to truly understand the forces at play in any given event. Oftentimes, our instinct to react to an event only serves to exacerbate the issue. By taking more time to observe the forces at play, not only will you determine if the event is truly worth addressing, but you will also begin to see some of the non-obvious opportunities to influence outcomes at the source.

The transition will be bumpy! It always is. However, by employing some of these obvious and not-so-obvious tactics, you can alleviate some of your stress and maintain momentum.

Establishing and maintaining effective leadership teams in government demands strategy design and execution that works in socially and technically complex mission spaces. We design new ways of leading in government and have built our reputation by enabling leaders to make extraordinary contributions to causes that matter. Contact us to learn more about how we can help your agency thrive.