I’ve spent 37 years in Washington and have seen a lot of companies suffer severe damage when their fast moving business model hits the brick wall of the Federal government. In Congress, I witnessed CEO’s grilled at committee hearings, watched reputations shattered through long drawn out government investigations, and saw industries crippled by onerous new regulations.
The lesson I took with me to the private sector was clear: In Washington, it’s better to be at the table than on the menu.
So, what can you do to reduce your Washington risk? Here’s my top line thoughts from almost two decades in Congress and another two decades advising clients.
1. Develop a relationship up front when you don’t need help.
Get to know your elected government representatives on the local, state, and federal levels.
Pay each of them a visit at least once per year. Educate them and their staff on what you do and how you benefit their constituents. Provide useful information from your industry expertise. Get involved in the political process. Ask what you can do to help.
Just like in business, if you’ve developed a good relationship with your elected officials based on mutual education and respect, you will have a much better chance of having their support and weathering the storm when a crisis hits.
2. Always be honest and provide the facts.
Elected officials are faced with an enormous number of demands and details and cannot possibly be experts in every area.
When legislation or regulation is proposed that affects your business, you need to quickly inform public officials of the facts in a calm, accurate, and concise manner. Be clear on the impact of the proposal on your business and industry. Begin a dialogue of mutual respect so that your message gets through.
It is critical to be honest and state the facts as they are. Always include the other side of the story. If you have made an error, admit it at once. Nothing can hurt your credibility more or evicts you from the table faster than giving a government official incorrect information.
3. Be flexible and responsive.
The ways of Washington are perplexing, byzantine and occur in a mysterious time zone all its own.
You need to be very flexible in your “ask” and be willing to adapt your expectations to what is realistic. Knowing when to power forward versus when to stand off is a very specialized “art of war” when dealing with the government. Respond quickly to any requests so you can limit the damage that could happen if you wait and let others fill the vacuum.
Be prepared at a moment’s notice to make the right calls, send the right one-pagers, and get the right meetings.
Always remember, in Washington, timing is critical – especially if your business is riding on the outcome.
So take it from a Washington insider. If you follow these 3 simple steps, you will reduce your risk of one day being added to the Washington menu as the “Disaster Du Jour.”
Feel free to contact us with questions and please let me know how it goes and how I can help. And if a Black Swan crisis hits your business, we’ve got you covered.
Guest Blog: Marty Russo