Addressing Your Business Priorities Through Public Affairs Consulting And Business Coaching
In a highly evolved corporate environment – i.e., one that deals with the policy arena on a regular basis — public policy priorities should be defined by Corporate Affairs departments in close coordination with the CEO and Board of Directors as well as with specific business functions such as Legal, Marketing, Sales, Manufacturing and Finance.
There are five major phases of defining and addressing your business needs:
Phase 1: Review Key Learnings So You Start Your Planning The Right Way
The success of any effective planning process – i.e. measurable results in addressing proactive and reactive issues in the public policy arena (federal, state, local, regulatory, judicial) – hinges on just how granular the organization gets in prioritizing its policy priorities and then committing the human and financial resources necessary to meet its objectives. One thing is clear — in order to move forward you must first look back at the previous year to define key learnings as defined in the following graphic.
More often than not, the nexus between Corporate Affairs functions and their business counterparts is as thin as a day-long meeting where business functions outline their needs and then Corporate Affairs departments unilaterally attempt to establish plans to address them.
Phase 2: “Ready, Aim, Fire” Always Trumps “Ready, Fire, Aim”
As Phase 2 demonstrates, in a truly effective corporate environment, Corporate Affairs and its other business counterparts should be meeting as a critical component of the annual planning process.
While there are issues that are essentially evergreen, there will always be new and emerging issues as well as nuances to current issues that require significant shifts in human and financial resources.
So once the barn door is closed – i.e., once plans and budgets are approved by the CEO and Board of Directors – it becomes very difficult to genuinely reallocate resources where they can have the most benefit.
And because CA is typically viewed as a cost center – which is incorrect – it gets very easy for your Accounting and Finance functions to chip away at your budget during the 2nd and 3rd Quarter Revised Budget Review because the CA budget doesn’t appear to be getting spent based on a cohesive strategic plan.
Phase 3: Get Clarity on Your Business Priorities And The Resources You’ll Need to Address Them
The result is that CA departments yaw back and forth trying to deal with brush fires throughout the year and other business functions find it frustrating to deal with their CA counterparts, especially in Government, Public and External Affairs, which seldom have solid metrics in place to support budgetary decisions for senior management. Alternatively, as Phase 3 demonstrates, with an effective process in place during the early phases of the annual planning process, you should have reasonable consensus on the major business objectives that CA will be addressing in the coming year and you can build a timeline and budget accordingly.
Employees are also shareholders, so why anyone in CA or overall management should tolerate this situation remains an unfortunate mystery. SO BREAK THE HABIT!
Corporate Affairs activities require the same level of metrics and expertise as counterparts in other business areas. Moreover, there are very effective methods that, when used correctly, can ensure CA activities are truly aligned with business needs – and just like with any other business function it starts with the planning process.
Phase 4: So Who Makes The Call On Issues And Resource Prioritization?
C-Level executives must be integral to your CA alignment and planning processes because of the ramifications on human and financial resources.
Some proactive issues raise the opportunity for significant financial savings and/or the opportunity to establish a competitive edge in the marketplace as we are seeing within different elements of the pharmaceuticals, telecommunications and cable industries, as well as the food, beer and distilled spirits industries.
Equally, if you are on the receiving end of a legislative initiative raised by a major competitor, you can be facing severe losses.
If you have an issue that becomes energized by a major grass roots organization or watchdog group, you can also face the threat of stiff tax increases, regulatory activity, legal activity or all three at once. That said, every corporation that is serious about using its Corporate Affairs resources has to start by prioritizing them so that the biggest threats and opportunities that can be addressed get the greatest commitment of human and financial resources and time from the C-Level Executive Team and the Board of Directors. This is addressed in Phase 4.
This must take place before implementation because you will ultimately run into a myriad of logistical issues, compliance issues from Sarbanes Oxley to your own internal codes of conduct and especially Federal, state and local lobbying and gift requirements. And there may also be significant shifts as the policy landscape changes that will require a realignment with executive management at a later date.
Phase 5: The Success of Your Implementation Will Depend on The Success of Your Alignment
There are evergreen issues that will keep coming back year-after-year, where CA and business personnel should have a pretty solid idea of the ongoing human and financial resource requirements. That said, it is still important to assess whether an issue has been addressed sufficiently that it can be moved down the priority list, or whether a determination can be made that an issue simply cannot be addressed effectively and should be pushed down the list in favor of issues that can. No company can deal with every issue on its plate, so hard choices have to be made.
For example, at the state level you have new gubernatorial administrations, changes in legislative majority status, or a pressing state issue (deficit) that will unquestionably supersede yours. So by the time you actually get to implmentation under Phase 5 many of your issues priorities may no longer be achievable or practical. Ongoing environmental scans of the political environment should help ensure that you are taking these influences into account so that you can reallocate priorities and resources.
It’s Not As Hard As It Looks – But It Can Be If You Want To Make It That Way
I have personally experienced clients whose annual Corporate Affairs planning process is simply a “go through the motions” exercise.
It’s a reason why Corporate Affairs professionals don’t often get the respect they deserve from other business counterparts, despite making significant personal sacrifices, including being away from home and family for months on end. That said, you get what you ask for.
If, as a CA professional, you want to continue to run on a treadmill, trying to play catch up with other business units and constantly getting blamed for being a day late and a dollar short (or for not spending money the way your plan indicates it was supposed to be spent), then you deserve the pain and suffering that goes with all of this.
That’s also why outsourcing is becoming so popular and Public Relations and Public Affairs firms are blossoming as major corporations see-saw on whether to outsource their CA resources or keep them onboard.
The shame of all of this is that there are simple, cohesive steps that you can take to ensure that you are aligned with your company’s needs and ultimately you will be doing a better job, more cost-effectively, than through an out-sourced process.
But you have to take the first step…
How Effective is Your Issues Scanning Process?
Are you spending a lot of money on an issue and getting little or no results?
Let’s discuss how to set up a thorough and robust Issues Scanning and Prioritization process. Simply give us a call (203.727.7868), or email Joshua Slavitt to schedule a no-cost, no-strings-attached initial consultation to get the ball rolling and to determine if there is an opportunity to work together to address your company’s needs.
We have helped many significant CA functions build clean, simple and effective planning systems that can produce long-term performance metrics and remain cohesive over time.