With the middle of September upon us, the federal election campaign is moving into full swing.
In C-suites across the country, corporate executives are mapping out all of the possible post-election scenarios and their effects; this is a time-honoured practice that has taken place for as long as there have been elections. While history might lead us to think this analysis is compulsory, we need a new perspective.
Amidst the current environment, government decision-making is distinctively different than it was only a few short years ago. That’s because we’re in the throes of a power shift where people are emerging from under the shadows of organizations and institutions that once held the balance of power.
This shift is dramatically increasing the influence citizens have on government decisions, and not just around election time. That’s because people are always connected, have fewer shared experiences and are increasingly cynical. Public expectations are high.
In this new era, some have even suggested that political leadership is dead. Proponents of this view argue that political leaders are no longer willing nor able to make decisions that do not have the demonstrable support of the critical mass. Whether or not this assessment is fair or accurate, it does lead us to a central question: Should organizational leaders care who wins the federal election on October 19?
To answer this question, organizations must take a critical look at the effectiveness of their public affairs activities throughout the past decade; and, in particular, whether they’ve been able to advance their priorities and create or maintain the conditions required for them to be successful. What quickly bubbles to the surface is the realization that despite what many considered to be a favourable climate for business during the last 10 years, their achievements have in fact been few and far between.
The status quo simply isn’t good enough—especially in an unstable economic climate.
Albert Einstein is credited with defining insanity as doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result. For organizations, their ability to achieve business goals that are dependent either in whole or in part on government is not likely to change—no matter who ultimately forms the new government—unless they take a different approach. To that end, and recognizing the changing dynamic between individuals and institutions, organizations must proactively engage people on the issues and decisions that impact them.
More specifically, organizations must work collaboratively to ensure their core stakeholder audiences—consumers, communities, shareholders, employees or others—are part of their public affairs outreach and reflected appropriately and consistently.
The ability to identify, activate and mobilize public support is the new public affairs. Moreover, and more than ever, the relevance of an organization to its various stakeholder audiences is intrinsically tied and inextricably linked to demonstrated, ongoing and credible interaction.
This interaction requires organizations to identify the values, concerns and aspirations of the people that matter to them, understand how they want to engage and deliver a strategy that connects with them on their terms. A deep understanding of their specific audiences allows organizations to discover what’s relevant and meaningful.
The lesson here is simple. Genuine efforts to connect with stakeholder audiences can pay enormous dividends—and not just in terms of the financial bottom line. In short, it’s about investing in relationships and building engagement equity.
Engagement equity is the new public affairs currency, where trust-based relationships represent the pathway to meeting organizational objectives. Building and banking engagement equity will allow organizations to “draw down” upon it, whether to solicit support for a regulatory approval, seek changes to existing legislation or pursue funding for projects. And this equity becomes more valuable in a minority government situation.
Engagement equity is also more fluid and flexible than the notion of social licence, which is itself limiting because there is, of course, no formal licensing authority or process upon which organizations can rely.
In that sense, it may not be that political leadership is dead, but merely that it’s only changed hands.