External Affairs and Government Relations: Golden Rules
1. Trust and respect take a long time to grow but can be destroyed in a moment. Rebuilding them then can be extraordinarily difficult, or in some cases impossible.
2. Good engagement often involves more listening than talking. We will often learn things we need to understand and adapt to.
3. Think through in advance the cultural sensitivities in any engagement: take local advice, and whenever possible use the local language.
4. Do not think every meeting has to have a definitive outcome. Every meeting does though need careful preparation and follow-up.
5. Avoid surprises – even something positive can play badly if it is unexpected.
6. Build relationships before you need them – do not wait until you have a problem before getting to know people. This means spending time on relationships that may never end up being needed; this is not wasted time.
7. Always approach a discussion with an eye to what your interlocutor has on his/her mind as well as what you want to talk about. Remember: key contacts are not interested in this Division or that Business Unit – they expect to be able to engage with the company as a whole.
8. Minimise the use of consultants or lobbyists: influential people would rather deal with us direct.
9. The Way We Work is an essential component of who we are. Never be tempted to water down any part of it to make things easier with political figures – even if it means there are some important people we just cannot deal with.
10. Wherever possible, present yourself as part of a win-win outcome rather than focusing on what you want in a way which makes you seem part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Consider how we can help the other person achieve his/her objectives.
11. Do not understate our own hand: we create jobs and wealth and offer best practices on safety, social and environmental issues.
12. There will be red lines we cannot cross and goals we must achieve. Provided we are realistic in establishing these and reasonable in setting them out, people will respect them even if they do not agree. But not if we look for arguments just to show we can be tough, or if we bluff and then cave in.
13. Governments can have a big impact on the bottom line: dedicate commensurate time/resource to developing relationships with them.
14. There is a tiresome and constant need to refresh relationships as governments and officials change. Stick to it.
15. Understand and manage the complex interplay between politics at the national, regional and local level.
16. Government often doesn’t know much about business but don’t underestimate their appetite for well-targeted information. Take time to educate them about your company. Be imaginative in how you do it, and use brief, clear “leave behinds” whenever possible.
17. Equally, take time to understand what makes them tick: their drivers are different from the private sector, but not incomprehensible. Always remember that (in most jurisdictions) they need votes or some other form of public endorsement.
18. Be pro-active and engaged across the political spectrum: it’s possible to do this without taking sides and you need to have relationships with the next government as well as the current one.
19. Don’t make assumptions about how governments and other stakeholders will behave or politics will develop. Make considered judgements based on evidence and sound analysis.
20. Build in the External Affairs aspects from the earliest stages of planning or project development, and then keep the information flowing in both directions
21. Map decision-makers and influencers. In doing so, do not map only those you know already, but explicitly ask who else you should know, however hard it may be to get to know them.
22. In seeking to influence a process, think through how you manage those who already agree with you, those who will never agree with you, and the key group – often overlooked – in the middle.
23. While everything that can usefully be measured should be, there are some very important things – like trust – that cannot readily be measured. Proxy indicators can be misleading.
24. Business associations can often be useful in amplifying our points. Pick the ones which have real influence and work hard to ensure their collective view reflects our own priorities.
25. External Affairs/Government Relations doesn’t generally need big teams but it does require specialist skills. Recruit, mentor and recognise the value of these skills, professionalising this function just as you would any other. Enthusiastic amateurs can do more harm than good.
26. Senior executives need to recognise that stakeholder engagement is a core part of their role: stakeholders expect this. They should be trained to deliver this part of their responsibilities.