Top Transition Tips
As the presidential transition nears its end, it's a good time for career federal employees to get ready for a new slate of bosses and priorities. Dozens such folks showed up this morning for a great workshop called "The First Ninety Days" led by Michael Watkins, co-author of "The First 90 Days in Government," a clever guide for career government employees on how to deal with transitions in leadership.
"Ninety days is great marketing," Watkins acknowledged, noting that government transitions take much longer than 90 or 100 days and that thousands of federal leadership and personnel transitions happen every year.
In an effort to prepare for the "massive on-boarding of bosses" in the coming months, Watkins provided the crowd at the National Press Club with two "top ten lists" (a favorite Eye gimmick) that listed mistakes made by career employees and political appointees during transition periods.
Top Ten Mistakes by Political Appointees in Dealing With Career Civil Servants:
10.) Assuming government runs like a business.
9.) Poor ethical choices.
8.) Unclear vision/goals/setting priorities.
7.) Not valuing existing processes/procedures.
6.) Only getting input from senior executives.
5.) Change for the sake of change.
4.) Not understanding agency culture and history.
3.) Trying to change too much too fast (Something Watkins said is a "big challenge for this new administration").
2.) Not learning the issues/not listening/coming in with preset ideas/rush to judgments.
1.) Ignoring/underestimating/distrusting career people (or, as one career employee suggested to him, "assuming they're idiots).
Top Ten Mistakes of Career Civil Servants Dealing With Political Appointees:
10.) Not speaking up/pushing back/"yessing" the boss.
9.) Hoarding information/protecting turf.
8.) Becoming paralyzed/reactive due to uncertainty about direction.
7.) Clinging to policy positions.
6.) Assuming political appointees know less than they do.
5.) Assuming they know more than they do.
4.) Hiding issues/not being forthcoming about issues.
3.) Attempting to manage/manipulate/sell political appointees.
2.) This too shall pass/"We tried that"/passive resistance/cynicism.
1.) Ignoring/underestimating/distrusting political appointees.
Most of Watkins' lessons easily apply to any organizational structure, but are particularly relevant considering the big change coming to Washington. He admitted he's no fan of the current president's policies but that "The Bush administration has been incredibly responsive" to the Obama transition team and deserves credit for orchestrating the best presidential transition in modern history.
Today's event was co-sponsored by the Council for Excellence in Government, the Senior Executive Association, Harvard Business Publishing and The Washington Post.
| January 6, 2009; 2:05 PM ET
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