Many corporate executives view the policy ecosystem in DC as a dysfunctional space that provides them with more risk than opportunity (which has some validity at times). Because of this, they often choose to only engage when necessary, which is usually in response to a looming crisis. Whether a local advocate or a Fortune 500 CEO, episodic engagement in DC is not enough to move the needle on an issue, mitigate policy risk, or drive new policy opportunities. Executives need to be thoughtful and disciplined in their approach to DC to ensure alignment with the issues that matter to their organization and to build the appropriate brand to be effective in what has become an increasingly complex policy ecosystem.
Here are three strategies any executive should leverage when looking to engage in Washington, DC:
Identify One Core Policy Issue: Executives who are focused on too many issues dilute their brand in DC and become less effective on the issue that is most important to them. Executives have the ability to heavily influence policy, but not when their scope crosses many different issues. A narrow focus will allow for stronger relationships with relevant decisionmakers. Executives should choose one policy to lead on and allow colleagues, trade associations, or their lobbying team to cover the others.
Identify One Area for Thought Leadership: Policymakers like to see executives providing thought leadership around issues they have expertise around. Whether it is the future of artificial intelligence or the importance of evidence-based policymaking, executives can provide valuable thought leadership on issues around the periphery of policy debates. DC appreciates expertise at senior levels of company leadership and it helps develop an effective brand among decisionmakers.
Identify One Charitable Cause: Charitable causes are an effective way to strengthen a personal brand and get on the radar of policymakers with similar interests. These also help provide a platform to discuss issues executives really care about and do so in a manner that removes the political process and helps to build meaningful relationships.
Those executives that are most effective in DC align all three strategies in a manner that helps establish some connectivity and brand consistency.