Making Friends with Risk: How to Be a Champion for Your Program During the Administration Change
“With Mick [Mulvaney] at the head of OMB, my administration is going to make smart choices about America’s budget, bring new accountability to our federal government, and renew the American taxpayer’s trust in how their money is spent,” announced President-elect Donald Trump in mid-December.
There is still a lot of uncertainty around what is going to happen under the Trump presidency, but one change I feel confident predicting is that the new administration is going to be laser-focused on government performance and results. And the general sentiment of the president elect and his cabinet will be that “government should start acting more like a business.”
This sentiment has many implications in terms of decision-making and performance management, most of which will not be clear for some time, but one implication that you can bet on now is the incoming leadership is going to expect program reviews to provide a level of transparency and data-driven analysis similar to that seen in the private sector. Further, the desired program management accountability and transparency will be closer to what a shareholder could expect in terms of reporting from a corporation on a stock exchange.
In December, I partnered with Brodi Fontenot, former Assistant Secretary for Management for the U.S. Department of the Treasury, for a webinar titled Communicating Program Value Amidst an Administration Change that gives tips for communicating about your programs with incoming leadership in a way that establishes credibility and rapport. Each of the tips provided in the webinar are useful for you to consider as the administration change gets underway and program reviews start getting scheduled. There is one tip, however, that I think is particularly important because getting it right can make or break your ability to build trust and credibility with the incoming leadership—risks can be your friends.
The phrasing of this tip is purposeful. Clearly, risks are undesirable and something we all try to mitigate and avoid in our programs. So, how can they also be your friends?
If you do your homework and prepare to discuss them analytically, risks, and even program issues, can be your allies when it comes to building credibility during program reviews with incoming leadership. And, if you think about all of the comments the incoming administration has made about reforming and cleaning up all the problems in the Federal government, the new administration is going to expect to hear that there are issues within our government programs, so if you don’t discuss the issues within your programs with the incoming administration in a transparent and thoughtful way, you will quickly lose credibility.
Here are some specific tips for ensuring you describe your program’s issues and risks in a way that builds credibility and trust:
1. Establish a framework or methodology for classifying and prioritizing issues and risks. Just as important as it is to resolve issues and mitigate risks, it’s important to be able to prioritize them among one another in terms of attention and resource allocation. When developing the framework, it is okay to leverage risk frameworks published by OMB, GAO, etc., but be sure to tailor it to the circumstances surrounding your particular program and be comfortable describing why you structured the framework like you did.
2. Work with your team to identify and vet a comprehensive list of issues and risks for your programs. The important words to note in this tip are “work with your team.” Consulting the people within your programs who know the details of the day-to-day is critical to ensuring you’ve captured all potential issues and risks and won’t be blindsided by one during your program review.
3. Gather data and be transparent about what you know and don’t know. Basing your program review on quantitative, data-driven analysis, as opposed to qualitative analysis will always be preferred, but it is important to consider the quality of the data and ensure the metrics available to you are actually related to the program’s goals and objectives. In instances where your level of confidence in the data is low, say so. And in instances where the data simply doesn’t exist, think about whether there’s a proxy metric or indicator that you can use to support your analysis or talk about actions you’re taking to start collecting the data that you need to comprehensively evaluate your program.
4. Identify the areas that will be most impacted, and make a recommendation and plan. When describing program issues and risks, be sure you understand what aspects of the program will be most impacted and how possible solutions will result in mitigating impact in the key areas. Then provide a recommendation and plan for resolution, and be prepared to discuss alternative resolutions that might come up and why you made your recommendation.
Effectively communicating program value to incoming leadership is always a challenge. And with our incoming administration that has a largely private-sector lens when it comes to evaluating programs, it is critical to adapt to what they care most about and present your programs in a way that they find credible. One way to do this is to approach the program review from a stance of “here is where we are now, including the issues and risks that exist, and here’s my plan for improving.” This approach demonstrates accountability, transparency, and an appreciation for the importance of continuously improving performance, all characteristics that are highly valued by the incoming administration.