What are the three big success factors in government engagement?
11 April 2022 at 4:20 pm
The election campaign has now officially commenced, many are considering what comes next for government engagement. As a long-term actor in this space, Neil Pharoah identifies the three attributes that help organisations achieve funding, policy or legislative goals.
At Tanck, we had several clients achieve great milestones in the recent federal budget – some received large amounts of money, or investment into their programs and initiatives. Others secured regulatory and legislative changes, and more still achieved policy announcements from both government and opposition. So, I reflected on the three attributes these organisations had in common.
The first attribute of success? Playing a longer game, and keeping focused. A client of ours received a substantial funding injection in this budget. We’ve worked with them for around two years, and while the intensity fluctuates, the attributes the CEO and his team displayed a commitment and focus on securing government funding, building profile, and shifting the dial on their issue.
Whether it be tiny details required for events, macro pitches for funding, bringing in board members when appropriate, or simply diligently undertaking the tedious, meticulous and time-consuming details of best-practice government engagement – they stayed focused on the objectives; funding and policy change.
This client had everyone – from their most junior team members and interns – ensure a small amount of time went towards engagement with government and other stakeholders. As COVID tossed them around, and despite struggles in between, they stayed the course we established almost two years prior. Keeping focused also meant celebrating the little wins along the way (we had many) but also learning from hiccups and mistakes.
The second attribute of success for a client who markedly improved their visibility across several political stakeholder groups (while securing funding and adjusting the arc on a key social issue along the way) was a general manager willing to learn and listen.
This GM is one of the smartest people I know in her field – driven, passionate, committed, she can run rings around leaders twice her age and experience. But she was by far the hungriest for information of all the clients we had in the field of government engagement. Every question asked, every detail attended to, she willingly parked all of her preconceptions, ego and assumed knowledge at the door, and was passionate to learn more. That passion was addictive, and her team always rose to the occasion. The rewards? They achieved seven-figure budget supports for programs, extended funding agreements, and substantially increased their profile.
We work with many clients with pre-conceived and often ego-driven responses to approaching government engagement – they have been a public servant or staffer or have a former MP on their board and think they know it all. I’ve spent most of my life in this field: I try to learn, replicate, copy and challenge myself – and our clients – daily. If I recognise that there’s always room to grow my government advocacy and campaigning skills, then I am always hungry to learn more. I genuinely believe that this general manager will absolutely change the arc of history in Australia – because she jumps into this space, willing to leave everything at the door, learn, and listen.
The third attribute for success lies in social organisations finding their own voices and driving their own agendas – not relying on others to speak on their behalf, or develop strategies that sit on the shelf.
A client of ours had used an “award winning” lobbying and strategic communications agency for advice and guidance before working with us. What they got was a government advocacy “strategy” which sat on the shelf unused, and someone speaking on their behalf.
Over the past year, this client has become more confident in their own voice and agenda. They do not want to use lobbying firms, or registered lobbyists, because they have learned their own voice ensures genuine engagement – they have ditched the “award winning” firm strategy, and made government engagement a “whole-of-business” objective
At our weekly check-ins, our client calibrates our advice and guidance against a living, breathing plan, that focuses on stakeholders, objectives, frames, outcomes – and importantly the role of everyone in achieving it. Yes, they have a whip-smart CEO, hailing from the business sector before joining the social purpose space. But they recognise that their voice is powerful: a plan on the shelf does nothing to shift the dial.
So, there you have it – the three secrets to government engagement, multi-million dollar funding in budgets, and shifting the arc on big, controversial social issues, come down to three things.
- Play a longer game and keep your focus – turbulent times and mixed priorities can steer you off course, but holding a true north around your government objectives pays off.
- Learn and listen – past experience doesn’t assure future success, and seeing from one perspective doesn’t mean you see the wood through the trees. Be hungry to learn more.
- Find your voice and agenda – do not outsource a strategy, get someone to work with you to build it. Do not outsource your voice to a lobbyist, who may be conflicted, find it, and help it grow loud.
Happenings on the Hill is a fortnightly column focusing on all things politics, policy, campaigns and advocacy. Stay tuned for updates around political trends and elections, lobbying and advocacy news, and hints, tips and ideas on government engagement that are specifically written for the social purpose/for purpose sector.
If you have any ideas, suggestions, tips or questions, please feel free to email Neil Pharaoh at email@example.com or reach out to him via Tanck social media: on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.