Category Archives: Stakeholder engagement

Happy Anniversary To Us!

_LDP8380-cropped and smallAlmost exactly a year ago, Stephen Robertson and Mike Smith relaunched Ethical Consulting Services as a partnership.

We’re still having fun helping clients with

  • Governance and meeting skills
  • Government and stakeholder relations
  • Project and inbound investment facilitation
  • Branding, marketing, campaigns, and communication

… and training in any of the above!

 

 

Last Week in Queensland – 8 February 2016

last-week-logo-2It’s just one year since the surprise election of the Palaszczuk Labor Government, so last week there was plenty of media discussion about the anniversary.

Read about it, and other major Queensland news, in Ethical Consulting Services’ latest weekly Last Week in Queensland, here.

 

 

Can’t Reach Decision-Makers?

breakthrough-smlSometimes you can’t get to a Government decision-maker – Minister or senior public servant, say – and don’t know why*: often it’s their gatekeepers not appreciating the importance or priority of your issue, sometimes it’s unspoken opposition to what you’re asking, frequently it’s just time or workload**.

How do you break through?

You don’t always have to know exactly what causes the blockage***, in order to get past it – you just need to find someone who can go around the barriers, and persuade the decision-maker – your Champion.

Depending on the issue and circumstances, the kind of Champion you need might be a

  • Minister in another portfolio,
  • local Member of Parliament in the same jurisdiction (i.e. State or Federal – and it works for Local Government too),
  • policy expert in the relevant Department,
  • Chief Executive in another Department, or
  • policy expert working for an Industry Association or Non-Government Organisation.

It has to be someone with sufficient credibility and sufficient influence to raise the issue competently with the decision-maker.

There’s three things to bear in mind about this “Champions” approach:

  1. Unless you are difficult to deal with or bad at presenting**** then the goal of your Champion should be to get you a proper meeting with the decision-maker;
  2. Bearing in mind that first point, sometimes you aren’t the best person to persuade the Champion to get on board, either – if you are aiming for a local MP, for example, then someone in their electorate or who they already know may well be best; and
  3. You need, both, to persuade your Champion to help you, and get them to the point where they can persuade the decision-maker it’s worth their time.

You’ll therefore need to prepare even more thoroughly for your discussion with your potential Champion, than you will with the decision-maker.

Why not go to their boss instead?  Isn’t that quicker and easier?

Usually, no!

Unless as a last resort and in extremis, this is normally a really bad idea.  Going to the Premier/Prime Minister/Chief Executive over the head of a decision-maker is an investment in long-lasting resentment and poor relations with

  • the decision-maker you’ve thwarted,
  • every friend that decision-maker has, and
  • possibly the decision-maker’s boss who may resent your evading the chain of command.

If you’ve gone around a public servant by going to their Chief Executive or Minister, or a junior Minister by going to the First Minister, you may have killed all prospect of any future co-operation for as long as they are around.

 

* Sometimes you might understand – but reject as invalid – the reason you can’t get to speak with them.
** Let’s presume you’ve done your research and are chasing the right person.
*** Though, usually, you must find this out at some point.
**** You are never the best judge of this – you should always ask your Champion “Am I the best person to persuade Ms. Such-And-Such?  Is there someone better to send?”  If there is someone better to present, the goal is to get them to the decision-maker, instead of you.

 

The Story You Sell To Government

story_timeWhen you are asking something of Government – a decision, a non-decision, a policy change, that your bid win a tender process, whatever it might be – there’s a right way and a wrong way to ask it.  Earlier articles identified the things you need to say, how to say them, and the things you need to avoid saying.

All of those considerations needs to be packaged up into a neat, concise, persuasive Narrative.  Once you’ve got your Narrative, every single thing you say and do needs to be directed at persuading Government to accept the truth and necessity of your Narrative.  Nothing should stray from or undermine the Narrative.

Many, passionate fanatics in support of their own proposition to Government, find it really hard to understand how to develop a short and focussed Narrative, but when you’re communicating with Government, you have a very small opportunity to get your message across, so you can’t spend time on the things that make your heart burst with pride – unless you already know those things do the same for Government.

In this circumstance, a Narrative:

  • is never off the cuff – must be thoroughly prepared;
  • must be structured like a story;
  • encapsulates and summarises the main facts around the issue;
  • encapsulates and summarises your proposal;
  • persuades the audience your idea is the best solution to a pressing problem;
  • rebuts major alternatives by making clear their inferiority;
  • is focussed entirely on the audience’s needs and motivations, not yours;
  • resonates with the audience – usually emotionally;
  • contains an unambiguous and feasible request; and
  • is short – as short as is possible while meeting all of these criteria – you might have only 2 minutes or 250 words, to make your case – our target is usually six or seven two-line sentences*.

Try to write it so you can leave behind a copy of your Narrative when you meet a Government representative – it saves them taking notes, makes you look organised and competent, and reduces the chance of misunderstanding.

You can’t deliver all of that off the cuff; nor can you deliver it if you are clumsy with words, or can’t set aside your passions when drafting or speaking, or if you are mistaken about what motivates your audience.  You may need help.

 

* OK, we’re often enough off-target here, but never by more than 50%

 

The Talking Dead: What NOT To Say To Government

walking_dead_smallIf you don’t have a good understanding of Government and Opposition, it is easy to put your foot wrong and wreck your chances of a successful discussion, when you’re pressing the Government to support your project or policy proposal.

Here’s a few thoughts about the wrong thing:

  • Absolute Power – Not every Member of Parliament or public servant has the power to do everything (read more here) and if you ask for something they can’t do, then you look like a dill; for example, legislation may proscribe taking certain actions or making certain decisions – you need to know this before you ask;
  • Power Without Glory – The Doctrine of the Separation of Powers is a special and high level constraint on powers saying, amongst other things, that Ministers must not usurp the powers of the Parliament or the Courts; in Australia the Doctrine is imposed by convention*, whilst in other countries it doesn’t exist or is imposed by laws or their constitution;
  • Game of Thrones – Public servants and Members of Parliament always have limits on what they may do, imposed by where they are placed in their respective structures, will rarely be interested in interfering in something that is someone else’s role, and rarely have the capacity to do that easily;
  • CodeBreaker – All members of the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary have codes prescribing how they should work; only the most courageous** amongst them will contemplate stepping outside those codes, and only those prepared to risk prison will propose they should;
  • You’re Awful, Muriel – You must start a discussion by presuming your audience knows what they are doing and why, even when you know they are entirely wrong: nothing kills your chance of a productive dialogue quicker than implying or saying directly that a Member of Parliament or public servant doesn’t know what they are talking about, or has been incompetent; you have to find a different way: you must structure the discussion so they see your alternative as better***;
  • Lie To Me – Never tell a lie, never assert anything is a fact when there’s any doubt, and never leave out anything important; Telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth is your only option, to ensure credibility; telling the truth means you must be very, very sure of your facts, and keep facts entirely separate from opinions;
  • Sin Of Omission – it’s worth repeating: never leave out anything important; recognise, too, that you are not necessarily the best judge of what’s important – if there is any chance your audience might see something as important, you must at least mention it in passing;
  • Censored Man with blue tape on his mouth. Isolated on white.Rush To Judgement – Opinions from non-experts are pretty worthless, so don’t offer them unless they are considered, evidence-based expert judgements;
  • Don’t Mention The War – Public servants usually operate impartially, and Members of Parliament are experts, so don’t talk about politics unless they invite it – and even then, exercise extreme caution that you tread on no toes;
  • The Ant Bully – When you threaten or bully, explicitly or implicitly, you’re saying you lack the facts, lack a good argument, lack ethical standards and maturity, can’t be trusted to stick to a deal, and want to be on the front page of tomorrow’s paper;
  • The Guru – keep your ego in check; if too much of what you say is about you, you’re not sufficiently focussed on how your proposal benefits the Government and the public, and you will be building resistance as you build perceptions of your ego;
  • The Killing Season – don’t denigrate your opponents or competitors, because you’ll always look like a bully or slimy, egotistical or selfish, and more interested in your own advancement than in good policy.

 

* One of the biggest flaws in Australian democracy is that this doctrine is not strongly mandated by State and Federal constitutions, which allows authoritarian Governments to accrue too much power at the expense of liberty and democracy.  But that discussion is for another time!

** Courageous in the “Yes, Prime Minister” sense:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power_to_the_People_(Yes,_Prime_Minister)

*** Mike Smith is incredibly grateful to then-Northern Territory Labor Leader Maggie Hickey for teaching this valuable lesson!

 

 

How to Lobby – Part 1

medlyNeed something from Government?

Over the past year we’ve posted a series of articles about, inter alia, how lobbying works.  Here’s a compilation of the How To Lobby articles so far*, broken up into rough topics.

Why

Why Lobby? http://wp.me/p4xOhB-r

“Why Lobby?” Encore http://wp.me/p4xOhB-A

Who Does It

Who’s a Lobbyist? http://wp.me/p4xOhB-N

Who’s Your Best Lobbyist? http://wp.me/p4xOhB-23

Reality Bites

Lobbying: The Dirty Truth https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2014/08/12/lobbying-the-dirty-truth/

Myths & Legends of Lobbying https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2014/10/16/myths-lobbying/

Dogbert Does Lobbying

Regulating Lobbyists: Hardly https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2014/10/22/regulating-lobbyists-hardly/

Australian Lobbying: Credibility Fail https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2015/03/10/australian-lobbying-credibility-fail/

Strategy

Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There! https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2014/09/17/dont-just-do-something/

Strategy & Delusion https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2014/08/12/strategy-delusion/

DON’T Increase Awareness https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2014/08/26/dont-increase-awareness/

The Basics

Lobbying: 6 Things to Know https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2014/09/24/6-lobbying-things/

Lobbyists Do WHAT? https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2015/03/03/lobbyists-do-what/

Lobbying is Marketing https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2015/04/01/lobbying-is-marketing/

Targeting

“Get Me The Premier!” https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2014/11/12/get-me-the-premier/

Who’s the Decision-Maker? https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2014/10/02/who-decision-maker/

Understanding Policy Processes

Mysterious & Mysteriouser https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2014/12/18/mysterious-mysteriouser/

“So When WILL They Decide???” https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2014/12/10/when-will-they-decide/

From Althaus, Bridgman and Davis

From Althaus, Bridgman and Davis

How’s Your Rat King? https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2014/11/27/rat-king/

The Uber-Rat-King https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2014/12/04/the-uber-rat-king/

What IS A “Policy Instrument,” Anyway? https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2015/01/22/what-is-policy-instrument/

Sax vs. Cymbals https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2015/01/28/sax-vs-cymbals/

Getting Ready

Lobbying Labor’s Queensland Government: How? https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2015/02/17/lobbying-labors-queensland-government-how/

The Meeting

How to Get That Meeting https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/how-to-get-that-meeting/

When you meet the Minister … https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2015/03/18/when-you-meet-the-minister/

What To Ask For

Persuading Government: What You Say https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2015/05/13/persuading-government-what-you-say/

What Makes A Policy Good? https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2015/05/28/policy-good/

agressive-manHow To Ask For It

Connecting with Decision-Makers https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2014/11/11/connect-decision-makers/

Motivating & Persuading https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2014/10/09/motivating-persuading/

Persuading Government: How To Say It https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2015/05/20/persuading-government-how-to-say-it/

Specialties

Crisis Management 101 https://ethicalconsultingservices.wordpress.com/2015/01/13/crisis-management-101/

 

What other topics would you like to see covered?

 

* There will be more!

 

Jointly Venturing: Wider Services & Capabilities

Ethical Consulting Services are thrilled to announce we’re now a partnership between former Queensland Government Minister Stephen Robertson and Government Relations specialist Mike Smith.

Stephen brings new specialties to the business – particularly inbound investment facilitation and project facilitation – beyond those Mike previously offered clients, so we’re expanding our scope:

Strategies that get you where you need to go …

  • Government relations & stakeholder relations,
  • Project facilitation,
  • Inbound investment assistance,
  • Governance,
  • Marketing, communications, and campaigns,

… and customised training in each.

And, the value we offer to clients is slightly different, too, now we are two:

We find the pitfalls and opportunities the others miss, giving you the best chance of success, because we’re:

  • ethical,
  • knowledgeable,
  • insightful, and
  • meticulous.

We’re both looking forward to the challenges and opportunities the new partnership will bring.

Our updated website here has more details of what we offer.

If you think we can help your business or organisation, give us a call or send us an email here.

 

 

What Makes A Policy Good?

good_sml“And what is good, Phaedrus,
And what is not good—
Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?”*

If you roll up not-good policy to Government, there’s every chance they will tell you so: your time and theirs will have been wasted.

You need to know how to ensure what you construct to take to Government is good policy, but “good” is often in the eye of the beholder, and Governments of different styles (e.g. authoritarian/bullying, consultative, conservative, reforming, neo-liberal, or socialist) will see the same policy proposal through quite different prisms.  So too will individual decision-makers who are unable or unwilling to consider policy proposals dispassionately and objectively, and who bring their particular passions to bear upon whatever is before them.

So, you need to know with whom you are speaking, in order to craft a proposal they will see as good:

  • What are their politics, objectives, and priorities?
  • What are those of the Party and of the Government they serve?
  • How do you cast or modify your proposal in a way servicing those layers of priorities, politics, and objectives?

For example, if your proposal needs to pass through a Treasury Department, where the official religion is usually “Market Mechanisms Rule, OK?” your proposal will attract suspicion and opposition as a matter of course, if it interferes with a free market or market-based pricing mechanism.  Benefits will be seen as, at best, secondary.

The text books tell us there are objective criteria any policy must satisfy, if it is to be considered good; for example, it must be all of these:

  • Effective and efficient: so scarce resources aren’t wasted;
  • Equitable: remedying social injustice, providing a “fair go”;
  • Comprehensible: avoiding uncertainty, misapplication, compliance failure, evasion, avoidance;
  • Accessible: avoiding inbuilt exclusions caused by false assumptions;
  • Practicable: avoiding policies made just for show; and
  • Stable: so the outcomes endure and frequent changes aren’t required – this might include consideration of community popularity and/or political sustainability (e.g., would the next Government reverse the policy?).

The Policy Analysis chapter** of The Australian Policy Handbook*** by Althaus, Bridgman, and Davis will give you a good understanding of what lies behind each of those terms.

Original uncaptioned photo: The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice (RobertHannah89)

Original uncaptioned photo: The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice (RobertHannah89)

However, in dealing with ideologically driven Governments of a neo-liberal bent, then you will find they treat some of those principles as subordinate to some or all of these principles**** below:

  • Custom and practice: don’t lightly change what has gone before;
  • Precaution: identifying thoroughly the true long-term impacts;
  • Choice and freedom: don’t impose stagnation and uniformity unnecessarily;
  • Personal responsibility and mutual obligation: ensuring individuals take responsibility for their own choices;
  • Small Government and lower Government expenditure: the smaller the Government the greater the freedom of citizens, and you are entitled to the full fruits of your labour;
  • Competition, market-based mechanisms and contestability: competition and free markets deliver efficiency, quality and lowest cost; and
  • Mainstreaming: avoiding ongoing disadvantage by eliminating stigma and policy ghettos.

On the other side of the political fence in Australia, a leftish or centre-left Government tends to regard those text-book criteria above, together with consistency with their own policy manifesto, as the starting point for assessing policy quality.  Governments closer to the centre will demonstrate affection for some of those neo-liberal policy principles listed above, while retaining a commitment to the text-book criteria.  Individual members of centre and centre-left Governments might regard the impact on such things as, for example

  • community empowerment,
  • income redistribution,
  • social safety net,
  • jobs and working conditions,
  • infrastructure investment, and
  • environmental sustainability,

as additional key tests for the quality of policy.

But don’t be fooled by these apparent ideological categories and constraints: you have to do the research so that know your audience, because, to cite two examples, some centre-left politicians are concerned to ensure personal responsibility and mutual obligation, while some on the right have a commitment to community empowerment.

 

 

* No, not Phaedrus by Plato, but Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig
** If we could find our copy (long story) we would provide the Chapter number.  Sorry about that.  I know you’ll forgive.
*** It’s pretty easy to get as it is the prescribed text for several courses at www.uq.edu.au and www.qut.edu.au, and across Australia
**** These words aren’t necessarily our words!

 

 

Persuading Government: How To Say It

agressive-manPresuming you already know just what you want to convey, there’s always a right way and a wrong way to say it – get it wrong, and you have blown the meeting and maybe your whole project.

We’ve stressed already the need to present your whole case in three minutes, but there’s many more things you need to do to maximise your chance of success.

Regardless of whether it is Ministers or public servants you’re dealing with, you need to be respectful of their personal and individual constraints:

  • Time – in spite of belief to the contrary, most are very busy, and you need to minimise the demand you are making on their time: e.g. if you’re asking them to investigate something, can you provide a credible head start?  And why are you giving the Water Minister a lecture on the facts of the water cycle?
  • Timeframes – there are many reasons why public services decisions take time, and you need to understand what theirs are, get in early if you are on a deadline, and make their decision as easy as possible;
  • Priorities – Ministers, Chief Executive Officers, senior public servants – everyone – have work priorities, hence time and resource constraints, imposed from above.  You need to be sure that what you are asking of them can be accommodated;
  • Policy – some of those constraints are things they are and aren’t allowed to agree with (perhaps on account of a prior or impending Cabinet decision they are not allowed to discuss with you), things that were committed by a more senior Minister, things promised in an election campaign, and so on.  While this goes to content, it is also relevant to how you express and argue for your idea, and how flexible you are;
  • Community – can your proposal be reshaped or pressed in a way that might minimise community opposition and maximise community support?
  • Codes of conduct – make sure you know how what you are asking will pass the tests imposed by relevant codes (ministerial or public service) and any higher personal standards your decision-maker might apply.

Whatever you say needs to meet a few criteria, before it gets proper attention and the respect you are showing them is reciprocated:

  • Truth – make sure you tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth: if you are later found to have misled, directly or indirectly, even inadvertently, your credibility may never recover; inflating your claims is as bad as deliberately lying;
  • Add value – you need to be sure that every single thing you say adds value to the Minister’s/public service’s priorities, as that’s the best way to get attention and support: things that don’t add value are ignored or undermine the other things you say;
  • Respect – you might feel the person with whom you are dealing is an incompetent, evil, wastrel, but if you show anything but respect then there’s every chance your proposals will die there and then; it’s also the case that very few Ministers or public servants are as bad as some in business paint them, so you need to take on board that while you may not think so currently, it’s possible they deserve respect; if you think women should stay at home and mind kids, for example, you’re the wrong person to wheel in an important proposal to a woman CEO – you can all too easily let your feelings show;
  • Aggression or excessive emotion – is nearly always disrespectful, and suggests your approach to policy is selfish, emotional, or irrational;
  • Demeaning – don’t demean anyone; you never know how they might be connected to the person on the other side of the table, and it demonstrates an unprofessional approach – it makes decision-makers suspect your genuineness, motives, and credibility; it’s usually fatal to your cause to deliberately or accidentally demean the person you’re talking with;
  • Objectivity – it’s best to avoid partisan superlatives and try to couch your case in reasonably empirical and objective terms: while you need to convince the person you’re talking with, don’t forget that they in turn have to convince others, so your argument needs to appeal to cool heads remote from the debate.  In particular, how does it service Government priorities?
  • Non-partisan and non-political – whatever you propose might well advantage one side of politics or the other, but rest assured you are dealing with someone smart enough to work that out without the point being laboured – and political professionals often hate being lectured by amateurs, lust like most other professions;
  • The front page test – would your proposal survive, if your discussion with a decision-maker was plastered across the front page of the local Murdoch rag?  If not, your approach is wrong and you’ve failed one of the earlier tests.
  • Jargon – you have to find that happy spot between presuming your audience are entirely ignorant, and presuming they know everything already.  Good luck with that!

Finally, tell a story.  Stories are memorable, and help others intuitively understand what you are saying.  If you haven’t read and applied Winning the Story Wars, or something similar, to your presentation, then you should read it and recast what you are saying.

 

 

Persuading Government: What You Say

breakthrough-smlYou’ve finally secured that vital meeting with the right Government decision maker, the one who can make or break your project – congratulations!

What you’re asking for has to have passed a few tests before you are ready to be its advocate: it must

  • be legal,
  • be feasible,
  • remedy a problem or grasp an opportunity*

or you’re wasting your time.

When you present – in your first three minutes, first three slides or first 400 words – what you say must demonstrate

  • why your idea,
  • why not the alternative idea, and
  • why now.

Why your idea?

This isn’t about why you like it – it’s why Government should like it, and that’s entirely different – you have to understand Government priorities, processes and people.  We’ve seen many clients destroy their project by listing the virtues enthusing them, not the virtues that might attract Government support.

What compels adoption of your idea?  Which of the social and economic environment, public and political pressures, current policy failures, and so on, drive the need for it?  What will happen if your idea isn’t adopted?  How does it deliver on Government promises and values?  How does it satisfy the principles** of good policy?  What are the benefits, the State interests?  How are the community’s interests served?  How can it be afforded?  What can be done to improve prospects of success and minimise opposition?  Which credible scientists, academics, public servants, stakeholders, or economists support what you say and will be advocates?

Why not the alternative?

Don’t forget that one competing alternative is making no change, so you must be clear why things can’t stay as they are: unanticipated opportunities or problems, gaps or failings in current policy or programmes, impending doom, changes in circumstances that undermine current policy settings, political risk, and so on.

More generally, you’ll need to show that alternatives fail to satisfy or offend principles of good policy, deliver poor results, are more likely to fail, will agitate key stakeholders and cause them to campaign against the Government, are politically dangerous, offend Government values, are impractical, are too expensive … as many as possible of that sort of problem.  Again, don’t talk about your needs here, but the Government’s and community’s needs – why Government priorities and values should drive them to reject the alternatives.

head-in-the-sand-smlWhy now?

What negatives arise if action is delayed?  What advantages accrue from timely action?  What timeline gives the community and Government the best outcomes, and why?  What’s happening next year that wastes money if this idea isn’t adopted now?

Be mindful of the timing of major events, Parliamentary sittings, the election cycle, the Government’s budget, the grand final, school holidays, commencement of major policy initiatives, release dates of economic and unemployment statistics … and everything else.

Shape and Tone

Your presentation needs to tell a concise story addressing all of those things, with your idea as the heroine saving the day.  (If you haven’t read Winning the Story Wars or something similar, you should.)

The tone of your presentation is important too: make a strong factual argument, with language that is empirical and not emotive or aggressive, nor demeaning of others.

Don’t forget that you’ve got to make your case in the first three minutes, three slides or 400 words – there’s rarely a second chance, so preparation is critical.

Finally, and Always: 2 Things

Include a clear and thought-out “ask” that furthers your objective: a future meeting, someone in the Department to talk with about the issue, delegation to someone, decision-maker to investigate and respond, and so on.  Make sure you secure the opportunity to respond to future criticism of your idea by internal and external stakeholders, if that’s at all possible.

… and leave behind a one page summary, a more detailed summary, sources of more information, and contact details for credible supporters and referees for your idea, where appropriate.

 

 

* Never just go there with a problem – always have a well-developed solution, or a way to find the solution.
** Principles of good policy can vary from Government to Government: we’re preparing that article right now, and it will probably be next in this blog.