Policy expertise has always been critical to organizations’ success, but heightened business uncertainty on issues ranging from trade to data privacy has given the discipline a new spotlight in board rooms and the C-suite. Today, most corporate government affairs teams need to be prepared to work with CEOs, General Counsels, and key business and strategy executives on a weekly basis. These corporate leaders are concerned with ensuring their public policy-related business decisions reinforce their relationships to stakeholders, minimize risk and position their firms for long-term growth.
For policy professionals, this increased executive attention on policy issues is a welcome opportunity to weave legislative, regulatory and political risk into corporate decision-making. Many of the government affairs professionals we engaged in our research said their involvement in a broader range of corporate conversations helped them drive better long-term business strategies.
One area in which policy professionals’ counsel has become especially valuable is social issue activism. With public and employee interest in social policy issues growing, policy experts are adding value by coaching executives on whether, when and how to respond to controversies. Through their unique understanding of the political environment, the trajectory of issues and the details of lawmaking and rulemaking processes, policy professionals help executives pick the right moments and mechanisms to act on the issues that matter to their stakeholders. For leading government affairs teams, it’s become commonplace to outline official triage protocols for these types of decision-making processes.
Another surprising new area of demand for policy expertise derives from corporate strategy and investor relations teams. Investors are more aware than ever of public policy’s impact on companies’ growth. In the past few years, volatility on trade, regulatory policy and healthcare coverage, among other issues, has significantly impacted many firms’ stock prices. Moreover, companies’ positions on policy issues have become a key point of interest for investors, many of whom leverage corporate social responsibility (CSR) rankings to evaluate whether a company is worthy of investment. The policy professionals we spoke with described coaching their strategy and investor teams to deftly answer difficult questions about how political and policy issues will impact their companies’ business plans.
Growing corporate interest in policy issues extends far beyond the C-suite and business teams. From human resources’ asks for help on labor and immigration issues to finance’s questions about progress on tax policy, today’s policy professionals must be smart on issues that extend beyond their industry and traditional areas of responsibility.
While most policy professionals welcome heightened corporate interest in their work, it also puts new constraints on their time and resources.
The work of translating politics and policy information for an audience beyond the beltway isn’t easy. Many policy executives we spoke with described an almost-daily effort to contextualize political updates for business stakeholders. This meant making last-minute phone calls and writing quick turnaround briefs to paint a picture of how and when policy issues would evolve -- information that isn’t readily apparent in the headlines. Failing to do so could mean these policy professionals’ companies or clients overreact, use incorrect or inadequate levers of power and create long-term headaches with government stakeholders.
All this time spent translating policy internally constrains policy professionals’ availability to influence stakeholders beyond their organizations. With less time to meet decision-makers on the Hill, engage the media and talk to customers and the public, many policy professionals have come to view cross-functional engagement as a pain point. The pain is particularly acute given that at least one-third of policy professional teams at corporations, associations and think tanks comprise five or fewer staff.
To meet the demands of increased interest in their work, many policy professionals turn to external support.
These external experts are a welcome addition to many firms’ internal lobbying and policy analysis teams, but coordinating with them can itself be time-consuming. In our research, we heard from leading government affairs teams who were building new, scalable systems for rapidly responding to internal stakeholders’ most common concerns. This meant creating reusable or regularly-updated explainers, graphics and memos on topics of broad interest to the firm (e.g., trade or the affordable care act).
Despite heightened interest in politics and policy, many policy professionals report they continue to have trouble measuring the return-on-investment (ROI) for their work. Paradoxically, all the time policy professionals spend delivering value to their organizations by advising internal partners on policy issues may detract from the time they have to engage in activities traditionally used to value their work, like booking meetings on the Hill. Even those organizations with the resources to cover internal and external demands on their time reported that showing value remains elusive in an era of legislative gridlock and political partisanship.
In our research, we found leading policy professional teams were eschewing metrics for valuing their work that focuses on the means rather than the end (for example, tracking meetings), or lacked the precision to be credible with a senior executive audience (e.g., attributing meetings to legislative outcomes). Instead, these teams work with their Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) and business stakeholders to create repeatable, reliable metrics for measuring policy issues’ impact on their companies’ and clients’ performance. They also press business leaders in their firms to attribute financial impact to issues they’d like the government affairs team to prioritize; thereby allowing government affairs teams to make informed choices about resource allocation and empowering them to measure results in dollars and cents. Finally, many teams are looking to external benchmarking partners to provide an unbiased view of their firms’ reputation in Washington on a year-to-year basis.
Read more from POLITICO Pro's 2019 Policy Insider's Report.
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