Planning for Uncertainty During the Presidential Transition

After a year of unprecedented everything, we now face a unique presidential transition. With the backdrop of a bitterly divided nation, this will be the first presidential transition during the surging nationwide pandemic and the first with a heavily remote government workforce, qualities that lead to a lot of unknowns.

Although this transition is different than others, there is a lot we do know. The American people have voted. The states, districts, territories and U.S. Congress have certified their election results. The General Services Administration Administrator issued the letter that released resources and authority to the incoming administration’s transition team. The Electoral College has acted. On January 6, 2021, a joint session of Congress certified election results, following a violent insurrection attempt egged on by the sitting president and despite unfounded and disproven claims of widespread voting fraud. After it all, we know President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be sworn in on January 20, 2021, and the new administration begins.

There are already many plans, systems and procedures in place for the presidential transition. Even though you hope things will be smooth from here on out, there is still plenty of presidential transition uncertainty you have to allow for in your planning. How can you accomplish that?

Start with GovLoop’s resources

Our experts on government matters are sharing lots of practical advice on navigating this unique presidential transition. You can expect even more guidance to help you succeed during the Biden administration’s first 100 days.

Also, make sure to register for our upcoming toolkit to help you survive and thrive the transition, whether you’re directly or indirectly involved. In it, we include some help helpful change management tips.

Use decision triggers in your plan

While there are still many unknowns about the presidential transition, that shouldn’t keep you from making decisions. You can use a technique called “decision triggers,” which is particularly useful during situations mired in uncertainty. First, you identify the conditions that would trigger an action, then you figure out what you’ll do if and when the condition is met.

For example, while you may not know when a particular Biden nominee or appointee who affects your work will be confirmed or hired, you can make plans for what you’ll do as a result of either a quick confirmation or a drawn-out process. Or, since you don’t know when your team can safely return to the office or hold face-to-face public meetings, you can instead set up virtual processes now and simultaneously set decision triggers for supplementing with in-person systems when it’s safe to do so.

Build on identified priorities

The incoming administration is already sharing information you can use to start making your own transition plans. The Biden-Harris transition website offers detailed information about its priorities to “build back better.” As of December 2020, the priorities are:

  • COVID-19: A plan to respond to the growing public health and economic crisis caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
  • Economic recovery: A plan for jobs and economic recovery for working families.
  • Racial equity: A plan to deal with systemic racism and economic inequality.
  • Climate Change: A plan to create union jobs by tackling the climate crisis.

Use the information about these priorities to do an assessment of how your organization or team may need to shift focus. Evaluate the work you’re already doing that fits the Biden administration’s priorities, and look for places where you can make adjustments to include the priorities into your goals and plans for 2021.

Lean on people who have experience

Since the last presidential transition was just four years ago, you probably have colleagues and other career staff who have valuable experiences and resources to share. Rather than repeating their struggles and making the same mistakes, ask them to talk you through the successes they had, what they wish they’d done and other lessons they learned. Even if your organization doesn’t have significant presidential transition responsibilities, there may be processes to update, stakeholders to convene and other duties to fulfill.

If there isn’t something official at your office already, put together your own internal presidential transition working group to guide your team through the work ahead. With all the practice everyone already has working remotely, you can convene your group virtually for now. To get started, check out these resources for guidance, templates, best practices, roadmaps, podcasts, reports and more:

Get ready to collaborate with new people

Leading up to or soon after Inauguration Day, if your office is part of the federal government, it may be contacted by an agency review team for the Biden administration (some have already been contacted). It may also have to prepare materials the agency review team needs to understand your current priorities, operations and staffing.

If you work in state or local government, you’re not immune from the effects of the presidential transition — and other leadership transitions as well. New congresspeople, governors, legislators, mayors, councilmembers, elected officials and political appointees will be coming on board in the coming months. You need to be flexible about the changes they’ll bring while continuing to focus on the vital services you provide for people and communities.

Lauren Girardin is a marketing and communications consultant, storyteller, and freelance writer based in San Francisco. She helps organizations engage their communities and tell their stories. Her website is laurengirardin.com and you can connect with her on Twitter at @girardinl.

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