The Presidential Transition as a Change Driver
In 196 days the next President of the United States will be inaugurated, marking a major milestone in what is one of the most significant and predictable cycles of change in the Federal government. The 2017 change of administration has been the focus of a number of efforts aimed at improving the effectiveness and continuity of operations for Federal agencies undergoing potentially significant leadership transitions. Organizations including the Brookings Institution, the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), and the American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC) offer recommendations for a smooth handoff, even the current administration has established a White House Transition Coordination Council to “undertake all reasonable efforts to ensure that Presidential transitions are well-coordinated and effective, without regard to party affiliation.” The sheer volume and frequency of attention being paid to the process for this monumental shift in Federal leadership point to the complexity and importance of the pending change in administration.
Adding to the complexity of the Presidential Transition is the pace and volume of change already occurring in public sector organizations. Earlier this year, Management Concepts, in partnership with Human Capital Media, surveyed 473 public sector employees to understand the drivers of change and strategies for successful change in the near and mid-term future. Somewhat surprisingly, according to the survey, less than 1/3 of respondents believe the Presidential Transition will be a major driver of change for their organization in the next three years. Here are three reasons why I think the impending change of administration may not be top of mind for many Federal workers:
- Many, perhaps most, Federal workers have more immediate issues to tend to: According to our survey budget uncertainty, the pace of technology change, challenges in recruiting and retaining talent, generational shifts in the workforce, and expectations for improved or increased services are all identified as high impact drivers of change for public sector employees. The impacts of these changes are already being felt in Federal organizations today. The need to adapt and respond to the current changes facing Federal employees is significant enough that planning for the future shift in administration is just not a top of mind priority.
- The impacts of the administration change will be limited until 2019: The new administration will inherit the 2017 budget and has limited flexibility in the 2018 budget. Because of this, significant shifts in investment priorities and the changes those bring are two, or more, years in the future. With the pressing challenges facing Federal personnel today (see #1), anticipating and planning for changes from a new administration shouldn’t be the focus of large portions of Federal employees.
- The mission matters most: Many Federal employees join and stay with the Federal government because of a motivation to serve and help their agency achieve its mission. While changes in priorities and areas of focus will most certainly come with the change of Administration, sweeping changes to the mission of an organization are much less likely to occur. Maintaining a focus on delivering the high quality citizen experience that is the mission of Federal agencies is a primary focus of Federal employees and that focus will remain no matter who is in the White House.
There is no question that the pending Presidential Transition will drive a significant amount of change in the Federal government. As such, it’s encouraging to see so many individuals and organizations planning early to make that change a success. However, it’s equally important to remember that the transition is just one change of many facing Federal employees today. Building an adaptable and resilient workforce that thrives during changes of all varieties must by the focus of Federal leaders today.