The Federal Workforce Needs New Skills to Handle Change in Times of Transition

The arrival of a new administration to the White House is always a harbinger of change across government, and the most recent is far from an exception.

On the heels of the 2017 presidential transition, employees across federal agencies are trying to figure out how to cope with the inevitable changes that come along with political shakeups. Change is always a possibility, though they may feel an especially acute form of it now, and it behooves federal agencies to be prepared for it.

In all, the Partnership for Public Service counts over 4,000 political appointees across the federal government, a great deal of whom it says "hold important leadership and policymaking positions," and about 1,200 of whom must be confirmed by the Senate. This turnover alone can cause culture shifts within agencies, not to mention the fact that new executive leadership often brings with it directional change for agency missions.

"At this point in the transition to a new administration, many federal employees are starting to get an idea about what may be happening in their respective agencies and how it might affect their jobs," says Natalya Bah, a part-time instructor at Graduate School USA. "Now, it's time for them to decide what they want to do with that knowledge."

Federal employees seeking to find productive ways of dealing with change and tumult within the government—both expected and unexpected—have resources available to them through which they can grow and prepare for any number of events that might be on the horizon with a transition. As an instructor of courses in change and transition management, Bah is a practitioner of one such resource.

"One example I use in the class comes from my personal experience as a contractor at a civilian agency that was changing its entire project management structure," Bah says. It was the first time she'd observed organizational change on a large scale, and what she saw opened her eyes to the way humans process a shifting environment.

"What was most shocking was how immediately negative the reaction to change was," Bah says. She saw the agency's employees effectively experiencing the stages of grief—they went through identifiable denial, anger, bargaining and depression before they were able to reach acceptance.

Bah draws on this experience and others in her classroom. The key to accepting change, she holds, is a strong toolbox of dynamic skills.

"This is not theory," she says. "Everything is very actionable. This course relies on exercises that can be learned and replicated with coworkers—it's incredibly practical."

At this point and beyond, Bah believes, practical solutions are exactly what government needs, since change is by nature inconstant and unpredictable.  But even after the final appointees of the transition file in, federal employees should still ensure they are prepared for future organizational shifts that could catch them off guard.

Bah’s courses in change and transition management are available through Graduate School USA and are accessible to anyone—federal employee or not—but agencies can also arrange for them to be taught on-site.

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