What Can Those Involved With The Presidential Transition Learn From Mergers and Acquisitions?

March 28, 2019

Jeff Merrell, Senior Advisor, Partnership for Public Service

In just a few days, the Trump administration will assume leadership of a $4 trillion annual enterprise comprised of hundreds of agencies, including seven that, in terms of budget, would rank among the 50 largest companies in the Fortune 500.

Because CEO transitions in the private sector occur more often than a presidential transition and companies are frequently undergoing drastic changes through merger and acquisition activity, there may be valuable lessons Trump’s team, incoming appointees and career civil servants can learn from the private sector on how to navigate such a large transformation.

The most recent report from Deloitte, “The presidential transition: Translating lessons from mergers and acquisitions” outlines the similarities between the phases of a typical merger and acquisition transaction and the presidential transition, and provides key lessons and tips for both the “acquired” (federal agencies) and the “acquirer” (the Trump administration and incoming political appointees).

Here are nine key lessons for transition teams, incoming appointees and career civil servants from that report:

Start with the end in mind

Knowing what you hope to achieve allows you to focus on what matters most. This clarity can provide strategic principles and guardrails to guide discussions and actions, discouraging the urge to catalogue or communicate everything in an attempt to be comprehensive. Not every organization and situation is the same, so be prepared to tailor interactions and triage the scope of inquiry.

Assess yourself from the “outside in”

Honestly and objectively assess the performance and alignment of existing priorities, programs and initiatives from the perspective of the other participants. For career civil servants in agencies, link your story of the path forward to the incoming administration’s future vision to shape your message. Highlight points of agreement while clarifying and refining points of disagreement.

Establish leadership and accountability

The president-elect’s transition leaders should identify ways to ensure continuity from landing teams’ due diligence efforts to post-inauguration integration of the new political appointees. Establish clear roles, responsibilities and accountability when it comes to integrating new personnel and new strategic priorities. Early interactions can be critical in establishing credibility and trust.

Control the integration

Incoming leaders should dedicate a full-time transition leader and integration process owners with clear authority and accountability. Launch small, rapid, iterative transition teams – quick wins matter. Ensure you maintain the implementation discipline over time.

Plan for an issue-free day one

The highly scrutinized first days of new leadership are critical in establishing relationships, trust and credibility. Avoid issues or events that carry disproportionate risk. Develop a mitigation plan to avoid wasting time, energy and social capital.

Expand and front load benefit capture

Making quick progress in a short amount of time requires new agency leadership teams to identify the most important programs and initiatives as well as determine where the biggest efficiency gains and value creation can be achieved.

Provide clear and consistent communications

Identify key messages and stakeholders, and use well defined touchpoints to deliver a consistent communication campaign. The more clarity on the strategic agenda and priorities by incoming leaders, the better. Don’t feel that everything needs to be in place before sharing information that will help employees build confidence and trust. Emphasize two-way communication.

Stabilize workforce and retain critical talent

Workforce support will be essential to the successful execution of change. Identify and retain key talent early. Motivation and engagement will often benefit from identifying and tapping into the intrinsic values that drive employees’ commitment. Build morale and avoid the exodus of essential institutional knowledge.

Coordinate complexity without disruption

Set timeline for actions and define governance (decision rights) for integration and ongoing operations. Set a weekly cadence for tracking and monitoring integration plans, but be prepared to adjust. Implementation needs to be a highly adaptive process.

For additional lessons from the private sector for the presidential transition, check out the full report .

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