Preparing for the Transition: Mars and Venus

This article has been updated.

This four-part series on preparing for the presidential transition is the result of surveys and interviews conducted by Alan Balutis, a former federal executive with more than 30 years of government experience. Balutis, who served as the Commerce Department's first chief information officer, is now a senior and distinguished fellow in U.S. public sector for Cisco Systems Inc. He also served as a member of the Technology, Innovation and Government Reform team for the Obama-Biden transition team in 2008-09.

This week Steve Dewhurst, who served as director of budget and program analysis at the Agriculture Department from 1978 to 2005, advises career executives on successfully courting political appointees.

1. Accentuate the positive. Working with political officials on important national issues is a privilege.

2. Put your best foot forward. Present yourself with a professional demeanor. Demonstrate objectivity and detachment from issues. Outline facts and minimize the use of adjectives.

3. Be patient. The most common questions from policy officials -- especially new policy officials -- are procedural in nature. Often they are encountering federal systems for the first time. You should treat these questions, no matter how basic, as important. Answers should be complete and in plain English. You will never have credibility on substantive issues until you've established credibility on process.

4. Mind your manners. Everything you do is as a representative of your organization. Do not personalize issues.

5. Listen. The purpose of the relationship is not to talk about what you want to do, but to learn and understand appointees' goals and to carry out their policies.

6. Pay attention to detail. Be precise with language and accurate with numbers. Pay attention to small issues.

7. Follow up. Don't let work assignments disappear into a black hole.

8. Anticipate needs. Policy officials appreciate staff that foresee problems and reduce their workload.

9. Show your sensitive side. Policy officials are human beings. Staff must be sensitive to their desires, moods and needs. Do not ask a tired or sick policy official to make a complicated decision.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec