Bloomberg Government regularly publishes insights, opinion and best practices from our community of senior leaders and decision-makers. This column is written by Dr. Victoria Grady and Dr. Patrick McCreesh. This column is part three of a ten part series on change management and the federal government. Be the first to see future articles by signing up for Bloomberg Government’s weekly newsletter.
In this series, we are exploring the challenge of bringing change to the federal government through the presidential transition. We have discussed types of change and how to begin developing a strategy for change. The next step is developing effective leadership. Previous work on change leadership through transitions highlights the challenge for new leaders in balancing a new political agenda with the historical foundation of the agency.
Navigating those challenges requires a defined awareness and diverse skill set for new leaders in the federal government. Leaders must guide their people while simultaneously supporting the organizational mission. Here are a few best practices for leaders in federal agencies transitioning to the new administration:
Share information. Change often means a lack of information, and as a result, people in organizations speculate. Often, they speculate worst case scenarios, and those speculations become rumors. As those rumors take on a life of their own, productivity, morale and mission can suffer. To counter this, assure people you will let them know what you know…then do it! During extended periods with no new information, tell people there’s nothing new to share. Otherwise, human nature will fill in the gaps with rumors and fear.
Understand agency values. With any new administration, new political appointees and policy priorities will bring calls for information gathering and data collection. If you are a political leader coming into an agency, seek to understand the agency without becoming destructive – collect existing briefings and ask questions rather than creating a series of formalized queries to staff members. If you are a career civil servant, communicate openly and honestly about what your organization does well and where it can improve. Be proactive about your value proposition and don’t let others define it for you.
Create quick wins. Nearly every article on change management tells leaders to identify quick wins. Why? Because they create trust and establish a brand of success. Whether you are getting to know the agency for the first time or educating new leaders, early success creates positive attitudes within the agency. These successes can (and should) be small. However, we are quick to note that these must be created, they won’t just appear. They require leaders to think “beneath the surface” about priorities. What will resonate with that agency?
Plan for the unexpected. The first year of a new administration is defined by new projects and initiatives. Prepare senior leaders, supervisors and project managers with sufficient capacity and resources to lead those activities. These will be high priority action items for the new administration, so you will want to be sure they are executed successfully by your most talented and respected team members. This builds the trust required to weather those unexpected scenarios that are sure to develop.
Project a sense of calm. Perceptions of the new leader will have the greatest impact on how people in your organization view the transition. Leaders at all levels of the agency can feel the pressure of the transition, so there is a sense of additive angst; do what you need to do to sustain a positive attitude about change and seek to build collective calm.
Our next article, will continue the exploration of leadership by exploring how federal employees respond to leaders during change.
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