Preparing for the Transition: Two Schools of Thought

Our series on the upcoming transition continues this week with tips for career managers on how to get into the minds of new appointees.

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 former government executive John Marshall points out that knowing what political appointees are thinking can help with developing a plan to respond to the incoming administration. He also offers advice on what should be on the minds of career managers. Marshall was an assistant administrator for management and chief information officer at the U.S. Agency for International Development during the early years of the Bush administration. He is the founder and CEO of the Shared Services Leadership Coalition.

What political appointees are thinking:

1. Align agency policies with administration policy.

2. Coordinate with White House policy and personnel staff.

3. Determine who knows what they're doing and can get things done.

4. Find the straight shooters, who can explain things clearly and honestly.

5. Seek out the nonpartisans, who won't subvert the agenda of the new administration.

6. Administrative and information technology issues are lower priorities than policy and personnel issues.

What career managers should be thinking:

1. Change is inevitable, so embrace it, be ready for it and be confident about it. Change can bring about a chance for personal and career development.

2. First impressions count. Communicate clearly and avoid techno-speak.

3. Don't appear too personally attached to a particular initiative. When briefing political professionals, present both pros and cons in a neutral and balanced way. Let the new team decide what to do.

4. Respect roles. Be careful about proposing grand solutions, at least until you've established a trusting relationship. Career people are implementers. Let big ideas come from the political leadership.

5. Play it straight with both sides. The outgoing team might be back before you know it.

6. Avoid displays of partisanship, even if your candidates win. Practice "Don't ask, don't tell."