Transition Teamwork: Helping New Leaders Make Smart Choices

How to streamline complex decision processes.

On Nov. 10, the IBM Center for the Business of Government and the Partnership for Public Service co-hosted a roundtable on how transition teams and new agency leaders can implement structures that enable managers to make smart and timely choices by incorporating data and evidence into their decision-making process.

By being thoughtful and intentional in in their approach, leaders can accelerate the achievement of the new elected president’s priorities, reduce risk and increase the capacity of agencies to deliver on mission objectives.

Our earlier blog on decision-making highlighted a number of challenges for the next administration to address.  Here we present key findings and recommendations in four areas:

Decision Processes – finding ways to harness government decision processes and not getting bogged down.

  • Define clear parameters. Use career staff to help incoming appointees translate governing priorities into clear goals and action plans that take into account budget and statutory constraints.
  • Open the aperture and use decision processes not as a compliance exercise but as a tool to bring in stakeholders and to identify and resolve problems in a way consistent with organizational culture.
  • Identify which decisions should be made at which levels of the organization. Free up time and focus by ensuring that decisions are not automatically “kicked upwards” when they can be made at lower levels in an organization.
  • Set deadlines – real or artificial – to drive decisions and processes, in light of precedents and constraints.
  • Look for early engagement between transition teams and career staff on key decisions.

Decision Support Systems – using frameworks such as strategic foresight and risk management to make better decisions.

  • Improve the staff capacity to clearly define what information is important and to ensure that organizations leverage objective analysis effectively in decision-making.
  • Hire engaged leaders – political and career – who have management experience and understand how to collect, synthesize and use information to make decisions.
  • Use maturity frameworks to assess the information analysis capabilities within an organization.
  • Establish an evidence-based function in an agency, with clear roles and responsibilities that can be a clearinghouse for information analysis.
  • Create organizational “learning agendas” in which organizations systematically identify areas for improvement in data collection and analysis. This creates a roadmap for improving the overall capacity and capability of the organization.
  • Create a framework to address issues. For example, how to engage in the budget process, the strategic priority development process and the performance management process.
  • Show active support for bottom-up decision-making processes. Leaders should signal their support for innovation and data-driven decisions at all levels of the organization.
  • Get clarity on who has the power to decide – this is especially important in cases where statutes provide overlapping authorities.

Frameworks and Governance

  • Start with clarity about vision and priorities, as well as an understanding and analysis of what unit of analysis (department, program, enterprise, etc.) will be affected by decisions.
  • Establish cross-agency teams that focus on strategic goals rather than individual organizations – with the express intent of using data to coordinate across stakeholders and drive decisions, rather than assessing information in organizational silos.
  • Recognize the need for flexibility. Different decisions are better suited to selected processes and leaders should be flexible in applying different frameworks, including risk management, strategic foresight, and performance measurement.
  • Coordinate with policy councils and Congress to support the enhanced use of data and information to drive decisions.

Enablers – getting it done in government.

  • Leaders’ actions set the tone for the organization. Leaders should, early in their tenures, signal the importance of data in decision-making around key mission needs and create open organizational cultures that foster the sharing of information (good and bad).
  • Make consistent use of both existing and new data and information as part of the performance agreements for political and career executives.
  • Communicate regularly with stakeholders – internal and external –who are critical to good decision processes.
  • Transition teams should identify political executives who bring strong management experience.
  • Establish the agencies risk philosophy and identify the appetite for risk – make it acceptable for staff to raise risks and problems early.

Decision-making can be a challenging topic to wrap our minds around. There are lots of people touching lots of parts, but it can be difficult to put all the pieces together into an integrated picture. Leaders in the next administration can be more effective if they, and the transition teams that follow them, give thought to how decisions are made and how information can be used to drive better choices. In doing so, they can accelerate delivery on the president’s priorities.

Dan Chenok is executive director of the IBM Center for the Business of Government. Alan Howze, a fellow at the IBM Center, is a senior adviser and project manager for the Management Roadmap initiative.

(Image via wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock.com)