Welcome back to our series on "Memo to the CEO: How to be effective at the intersection of policy and business." Last week we shared our thoughts on how policy is just as much about offense as it is about defense. This week we focus on our second principle:
2. Pursue an agenda with a team that has balanced knowledge across business, innovation and policy.
Perhaps the ideal job-listing would read:
Help wanted: Governmental affairs team seeking a seasoned executive to connect business, innovation and policy priorities; bring a business sense to policy conversations; and propose policies and programs that are good for both customers and products.
Companies and their government affairs teams should be visionary in the way they organize and staff their policy offices, ensuring they have the business acumen to complement policy expertise. Policy can proactively create business benefit rather than be a burden. In the sustainability space, a diversity of knowledge is crucial to capitalize on these opportunities. Here are a few strategies to keep in mind:
• Inject a business perspective. Given the current global focus on jobs and economic growth, it is increasingly important to bring business savvy to conversations with policymakers. They are hungry for facts, stories and perspective from those who are directly responsible for innovating and driving growth.
Next, make sure your government affairs team is well connected to customers and product innovators (collaborating with colleagues in sales and marketing, R&D and product development, for instance). This will help facilitate the design of future policies that support business and customer priorities, as well as ensure that product design considers future policy scenarios.
To paraphrase hockey great Wayne Gretzky, it's important to skate to where the puck will be, not to where it is.
In Europe, we're seeing this play out through the development of the European Commission's Green Public Procurement policy (currently voluntary), which will stipulate specific environmental performance characteristics as a contracting requirement. Consequently, this will have upstream and downstream impacts on product designers, engineers and corporate sales teams.
General Electric has an especially effective government affairs team, not only because the policy staff knows how policy works, but also because they understand deeply how GE's businesses work. Many of GE's leading businesses have strong representation in DC, Brussels and Beijing, and regularly contribute to the national and international policy dialogue.
• Customers are constituents. Businesses bring many valuable perspectives to conversations with policy makers, but one of the most important yet underutilized perspectives is customer insight. Policymakers have a surface-level understanding of their constituencies' preferences.
There's no better bellwether for larger societal trends than where people spend their money and time. Businesses have sophisticated information about their customers' purchasing and other behaviors, and this intelligence is extremely valuable to the policy community.
Communicating this information in a thoughtful way, educating policy makers on customer needs and desires and related policy implications can help shape the conversation to drive favorable policy outcomes.
For example, a number of leading utilities and their major "clean technology" suppliers are working to shape the smart grid policy dialogue by focusing on what customers really want in their lives that technology can enable. That's a great way to influence policymakers regarding proposed policies that impact the development of this market. Utilities can bring their customer data and insights to conversations with regulators to help advance their key business objectives.