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Preparing for Transition: Tips for Onboarding New Political Leaders


Thu Aug 13 2015

Preparing for Transition: Tips for Onboarding New Political Leaders

As we approach the 2016 presidential election, you—our government’s career leaders—will play a key role in helping to prepare for a smooth transfer of power and knowledge between administrations. In addition to working with the new administration’s transition team, you will also need to consider how to best support new political executives in getting up to speed on your agencies’ missions and priorities as quickly as possible. 

As part of the Ready to Govern initiative, I oversee efforts at the Partnership for Public Service to train new and seasoned political appointees to lead effectively in their new positions. I have had the opportunity to engage with hundreds of political leaders and hear firsthand about their onboarding experiences. What I have learned is that regardless of the type of information that you are presenting to these leaders, it is how you share it that matters. 


Here are several strategies that you can use to successfully orient political executives to your agencies. 

Present information in a way that is easy to digest. Faced with lengthy briefing books and back-to-back meetings, new appointees frequently feel like they are drinking from a firehose. Help them to absorb and prioritize important details by:

  • Providing one- to two-page summaries of critical issues and their roles in addressing them;

  • Making them aware of existing governance structures and decision-making processes; and

  • Scheduling 30- to 90-minute onboarding sessions featuring practical, actionable information. 

Focus on connections, as well as content. Recognizing who the key players are within an agency is oftentimes as important as understanding its programs, policies and issues. Help political leaders by identifying and connecting them to the individuals, both political and career, who they will need to keep informed about their work, collaborate with and/or rely on during their time in office. 

Offer ongoing opportunities for learning and engagement. Learning does not stop after orientation—appointees have told me that it frequently takes six to 12 months for them to fully settle into an agency. It will be up to you to support their onboarding over time, in part by:

  • Offering ongoing opportunities for them to revisit various topics and meet with subject matter experts, as well as engage with other political executives; and

  • Refreshing, reinforcing and reminding them about the tips, derailers, people and processes that they need to be familiar with in order to be effective. 

With just 18 months left in the current administration, now is the time for you to begin developing an onboarding strategy for appointees that will position them to quickly contribute to your missions and enable your agencies to succeed. 


Please join me for a rich discussion around effectively orienting political leaders during the “Training Up: Lessons Learned from the Ready to Govern Orientation” session during Government Workforce: Learning Innovations on September 10, 2015. Send me your questions and comments on this topic in advance and I will be sure to address them during the panel presentation.

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