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This week Steve Dewhurst, a senior consultant with World Perspectives Inc., advises career executives on successfully courting political appointees. Dewhurst served as director of budget and program analysis at the Agriculture Department from 1978 to 2005.
1. Accentuate the positive. Working with political officials on important national issues is a privilege.
2. Put your best foot forward. Present yourself with a professional demeanor. Demonstrate objectivity and detachment from issues. Outline facts and minimize the use of adjectives.
3. Be patient. The most common questions from policy officials -- especially new policy officials -- are procedural in nature. Often they are encountering federal systems for the first time. You should treat these questions, no matter how basic, as important. Answers should be complete and in plain English. You will never have credibility on substantive issues until you've established credibility on process.
4. Mind your manners. Everything you do is as a representative of your organization. Do not personalize issues.
5. Listen. The purpose of the relationship is not to talk about what you want to do, but to learn and understand appointees' goals and to carry out their policies.
6. Pay attention to detail. Be precise with language and accurate with numbers. Pay attention to small issues.
7. Follow up. Don't let work assignments disappear into a black hole.
8. Anticipate needs. Policy officials appreciate staff that foresee problems and reduce their workload.
9. Show your sensitive side. Policy officials are human beings. Staff must be sensitive to their desires, moods and needs. Do not ask a tired or sick policy official to make a complicated decision.