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12 (Almost Fool-Proof) Election Transition Tips for the Savvy Government Employee

“When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.”

– Benjamin Franklin

Major change is coming to capitol offices and agency corridors on November 6 – and that will be true regardless of the political candidates who turn out to be the election night winners.

So the real question for career government professionals is this:

How do you successful navigate the tricky terrain that comes with a presidential transition?

I attended a workshop last week at the Government Workforce event hosted by ASTD and The Public Manager where I learned a number of great tips that I wanted to pass along to GovLoop members. Most of these insights came from Ronald Sanders, a Vice President at Booz Allen Hamilton who has been through at least six presidential transitions
in his government career, including stints as the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) first Associate Director for Human Resource Policy, the first chief human resources officer for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Director of Civilian Personnel for the Department of Defense. Clearly, Mr. Sanders know a thing or two about transition.

1. There’s not much difference between a hostile (change in parties) and friendly (second term) transition.

2. Forget what is going on in the White House; transitions are personal – new bosses in every corner of government will ‘roll downhill’ and have an impact on you.

3. Someone in your agency owns “The Transition Book” – find out who it is and make them your friend.

4. Make a one-page case for your program that’s tied to bottom line results, linking your programs to overall agency performance and public perception.

5. It doesn’t hurt to show how your program links to the Administration’s goals *and* your new agency administrator’s interests.

6. Build a book on new political appointees. Study their biographies and find ways to connect with them – LinkedIn is a great tool for this research.

7. Take advantage of the appointee gap – most immediate changes happen most quickly at the top, then the rest are slower. Get access to them and make a direct case for your program.

8. Know what your online profile says about you – Google yourself and see what comes up.

9. Double check your LinkedIn, Facebook and other public accounts to ensure that you stand out when vetted by savvy new administrators (and not in a bad way!).

10. Make the new Administrator’s look good – get them invited to give a speech, help them write it, go with them to it, ride in the car and get to know them (and help them get to know you!).

11. On the flip side, never undermine your new appointee. You might have political leanings that differ from theirs – never let it show.

12. Consider the “Pony Express Strategy:” Ride whatever horse gets you where you need to go. Deliver on time and in budget.

Which tips resonate with you most?

What other tips can you offer colleagues new to election transition?

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Terrence (Terry) Hill

I have been through a few transitions in the past. It seems that it usually doesn’t matter who wins the election. I make it a point to get to know my new political appointee by doing a Google/LinkedIn search as soon as I find out who it is. Because they are accomplished professionals, there is a gold-mine of information about them online. I take cues from their background to see what their leadership style, preferences, and priorities will be.

David B. Grinberg

Career civil servants can take any number of approaches, some of which are listed above. Other approaches range from: 1) Kissing up to new appointees in an effort to win them over by becoming their new BFF; 2) Sincerely helping new appointees to get situated and up to speed quickly — for example, providing talking points on “hot button” issues or topical background info/briefings,etc.; 3) Just do your job well, keep your “nose to the grindstone,” and step up when called upon. Let your work and knowledge speak for itself.

Raymond Clark

Fine tips for those who have contact with political appointees and are climbing the executive ladder. This doesn’t apply to most government employees, however. Best advice for the rest of us: Stay apolotical, strive for excellence no matter who is in charge, add value to the organizaation, become invaluable.

Andrew Krzmarzick

Raymond brings up an interesting point: “This doesn’t apply to most government employees.”

Is that true? My sense is that any change in leadership and people at the top of an agency trickles down to everyone. Is it really only important to people who have direct contact with politicals?

Also, I’m wondering if folks are feeling pressure to advocate for programs that could be on the cutting block…even if they aren’t in close proximity to a political.

Joshua Millsapps

There is a lot of great advice in this that is easily applicable outside of the federal space as well for anyone who is experiencing change at the top of their organization.