Written by Sophia Chen
How COE’s OE Framework can guide your organization toward a successful transition

On January 20, the United States inaugurated a new President and, with him, a new administration. National importance aside, a presidential transition contends with many of the same challenges that we face when any organization brings in a new leader or a new leadership team. It may not be glamorous, but laying solid groundwork in the days, weeks, or months leading up to “day one” is crucial to getting off on the right foot. And although a new leader certainly has more than 100 days to make a difference, those first hundred days set the tone for the hundreds of days to follow.

Even if your transition doesn’t include a new address of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, you still want to set yourself up for success. The Center for Organizational Excellence’s (COE) Organizational Effectiveness (OE) Framework™ shows how four categories of factors contribute to an organization’s ability to produce outcomes that meet its mission and purpose. COE uses the OE Framework to assess and transform organizations, but the framework and its four quadrants are also a useful tool to ensure that you’ve gathered all the pieces that will feed into a successful transition.

OE Framework

Mission and Purpose

Before looking at any of the factors, you need to have a clear understanding of your new organization’s mission and purpose. Hopefully, this one is a “gimme” — if you’re leading an organization, it’s likely you’ve got this one down already. And while it may seem obvious, it’s important to keep the mission in mind throughout your transition and beyond. A solid, shared understanding of the mission should underpin the entire organization, how it works, and who its stakeholders are. As you get your bearings and start to work, the mission should inform the context of everything you see and do.

Strategic Systems: Planning, Governance, and Structure

An incoming leader or leadership team should have a full and clear understanding of how plans are set, communicated, and executed. You should also understand the existing financial and risk management strategies. If you can get your arms around this before “day one,” even better, but either way, you need to start out in information gathering mode.

Conditions and External Systems: External Influences, Stakeholders, and Customers

For an incoming leader, this area requires both information gathering and relationship building. Even if the organization already has existing stakeholder analyses, consider performing one for yourself. You need a solid understanding of the space in which your organization operates and the other players in the game. This also includes other environmental factors, such as market changes or regulatory requirements.

Tools and Performance Systems: Work Process and Infrastructure

Infrastructure and everyday processes may not be glamorous, but they keep things moving. Not only does a new leader need to understand the processes that drive the business, but they need to ensure that they have all the access and tools that they need.

The extent of this will vary — if you’re the incoming President, you probably don’t need to know how to work the phones, but you’ll probably want to know how the biscuit works . Likewise, in a lower pressure leadership position, you might have administrative support, but you will want some level of self-sufficiency when it comes to certain tasks. Or, if you’re joining a fledgling organization, you might be filling out your timecards yourself.

Talent Systems: People and Culture

Without people, it’s impossible to have an organization — and with people comes culture. Talent Systems is perhaps where you’ll spend the most time as you get started, asking questions like: have you filled all the key positions that you need to fill? Are you inheriting team members from the previous “administration”? Do you have a general feel for the organizational culture?

This can make or break you as a new part of the team. You need to build trust with the people who are already part of the organization, some of whom may have been there for a very long time. “Cleaning house” as soon as you walk in the door is sometimes necessary, but not usually the best choice; the existing team has institutional knowledge that you’ll need to rely on, and it can burn bridges. Establish a plan to merge new team members with those individuals already in place. This might mean taking a back seat, especially if your transition has been particularly contentious. Swallow your pride if you need to, because you can’t lead if you don’t have any followers.

Building good relationships at all levels of the organization can also open doors and pave the way for you in filling in the other quadrants.

Throughout your transition and beyond, you should be working to establish a shared understanding and lexicon with your organization. This forms the basis of the ongoing communication you will have both internally within your organization and externally with your stakeholders, partners, and customers. Communication doesn’t belong to just one part of the OE Framework — it is woven throughout. In every area, you should be communicating clearly and frequently.

  1. Start by ensuring you have a shared understanding of everything from the organization’s mission and purpose, so that everyone is working toward the same goals.
  2. Set clear expectations around strategies, performance, and culture.
  3. Don’t be afraid to use the newcomer hat to your advantage- ask the obvious questions and collect honest feedback from internal and external stakeholders alike.
  4. Setting the stage with frequent and clear communication will help you establish relationships that will see you through the rest of your tenure.

Whether you have two months, two weeks, or two days to plan for your transition, this Framework will serve as a convenient guide as you step into the next chapter of your organization.

Want a more in depth look at the US presidential transition? Episode One of COE’s new podcast, “Congress to Cubicle, Effective Government Discussions with Steve Goodrich,” will be airing on January 27. This first episode features Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, and he’ll be discussing the presidential transition and its impact on government agencies.