10 Tips For Impacting the Political Process For You, Your Family and Your Business
In his book, First Things First, author Stephen Covey offers valuable tips to help us do more than just be busy and get things done. Covey says that, to be productive, we must distinguish between doing things, and doing the right things. Doing lots of stuff may land your arrow on the dart board, but in order to hit the bull's eye, you have to do the right stuff, and it all starts with being prepared. In this first in a series of posts, I put Covey's advice to good use to help you participate efficiently and effectively in the political process.
While my post will be written from the perspective of what we are doing regarding the FDA Globalization Act of 2008, you will be able to use my suggestions in any political arena, whether it's federal, state or local. Be sure to subscribe to Indie Business Blog so you don't miss tips to help you be effective in matters of importance to you, your business and your family.
When we feel as though a new law may adversely impact us, our first reaction is most likely to be outrage. "How can they do that to us?" "Don't they know it's already hard enough?" "They should stay out of my business." "They are so clueless!" Some or all of those things may be true.
In spite of how emotionally charged the issues may be, don't succumb to the temptation to move forward with an emotion-charged, knee-jerk reaction. In order to impact any political situation, shock and outrage must be complemented by reason and strategy. Here are the first 10 things to do to make that happen.
1. Let Emotions Guide, Not Control Your Actions
Emotions must be restrained, harnessed and controlled. They must be placed into a useful context so they advance rather than impede your efforts.
When a group of like-minded people are justifiably angry, it's tempting to join together in a fever of anger and excitement and start shouting your position from the roof tops. That's usually a mistake. While emotions are an important part of the process, they do not make a useful contribution to the outcome unless they are also accompanied by an in-depth understanding of the issues at stake.
Allow emotions to guide you to take steps that will help you achieve overall goals and to affect the process in your favor. Overreactions and uncontrolled emotions will hinder efforts in this regard. The time spent venting is better spent reading the relevant official documents and strategizing about what steps are best to take to reach specific articulated goals.
2. You Have to Have the Goods
Last night, I watched a short segment of The Big Idea With Donny Deutsch. Donald Trump was the guest. When asked what is the most important thing you have to do to be successful, Trump said, "You have to have the goods."
No matter how good you look or how outraged you are, you have to have the goods in order to affect the process in a favorable way. This means that you must speak on the issues from a position of understanding and knowledge.
In the case of the FDA Globalization Act of 2008 or any other proposed law, that means understanding the current law, and then understanding how the new law, if enacted, will change the status quo.
You have to read the law and the proposed law in order to make any meaningful contribution. It's impossible to speak with clarity about the issues if you do not know what they are.
A few days ago, someone sent me a portion of a discussion group conversation where a participant told the group that the proposed FDA law did not apply to home-based businesses. This person did not post her comment in the form of a question. She posted it as if she knew it to be the case. This caused chaos and disruption in the group and resulted in a pointless waste of a lot of people's time.
It's important to ask questions, but it's also important to do your own research so the questions asked are reasonable under the circumstances. Anyone making cosmetics should know that cosmetics laws apply to all manufacturers, regardless of where their products are made. To think that Congress would propose new cosmetics laws that all of a sudden exempt home-based businesses makes no sense.
Not only that, the proposed law does not say that home-based businesses are exempt. This showed that the person who made the initial statement had not read the proposed cosmetics law and may not have been familiar with existing ones either.
Read the current laws. Then read the proposed new laws. Only then can you speak with authority on how both impact you.
3. Coordinate With a Group of Like-Minded People
It's great to have a reasoned opinion. But let's face it, the squeaky wheel gets the oil. If you are squeaking all by yourself, no one will hear you. There is an amazing and powerful synergy — and a lot of good squeaking — when like-minded people connect around a particular cause. Find and get to know people who share your point of view.
Try to select a group that is not only fun, but also seeks to uphold the highest professional standards in the area of cosmetics manufacture (or whatever the issue is). Spend enough time to become comfortable with them and know that you can trust them to be helpful in the process. Avoid groups that are driven by emotion and mean-spirited selfishness rather than an understanding of the issues.
If you can't find a group that meets your criteria, start one.
4. Choose Spokespersons
Choosing those most equipped to articulate your position is the next order of business. While laws are sometimes passed in a chaotic fashion, if we introduce even more chaos to the process, it won't help the situation.
As a part of doing things decently and in order, choose spokespersons for the group that have these qualifications:
- they are comfortable speaking publicly
- they write reasonably well
- they know the issues
- they are not driven by emotions
- they have the time to devote to the effort
- they play well with others
5. Identify Desired Outcomes and Start Strategizing
Once you connect with a group and choose spokespersons, it's time to develop an advocacy strategy. Identify your desired outcome(s) and then identify the main points that support a reasoned argument in favor of those outcomes. Your spokespersons should be able to articulate the main points and the desired outcomes succinctly and with zeal.
Make sure that the spokespersons take the time to understand all viewpoints. It will not be possible to please everyone in the group. But it is possible to listen to everyone and assess all input before a position is formalized and publicly announced.
6. Identify the Decision-Makers
Once your group develops an advocacy strategy based on specific desired outcomes, you must identify the decision-makers, the people to whom you must present your case. In the case of the draft FDA Globalization Act of 2008, we started with the Committee in Congress where the draft law originated and is now pending. We also included the Food & Drug Administration, the agency that will be responsible for interpreting and implementing the new law if and when it goes into effect.
Read the draft law, find out who drafted it and why, watch public hearings and/or read transcripts of them, digest relevant media reports and familiarize yourself with the positions of other interested parties. All of this information will help you create a reasoned approach to the decision-makers.
Don't forget to include decision-makers who may not yet be fully involved in the process, but whose input will matter later. For example, in our case, we made it our business to meet with a staffer in Senator Kerry's office even though the draft law is not a bill yet, and even though if it becomes a bill, it will not go to the Senate until after it leaves the House.
Senator Kerry is the chairperson of the Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship so we know that involving him in our advocacy early on could create a strategic advantage later in the process.
We are also including any and all other Congress persons and Senators we possibly can. No one is outside the realm of our advocacy. Each of them may at some point be expected to vote for or against us and we want them to know that we respect their duties as lawmakers and that we want to aid them in the fulfillment of those duties.
6. Identify Other Stakeholders; Work With Them Where Possible
It's natural to see the issues exclusively from the perspective of you and you alone. After all, if a law will change your life, and maybe not in a good way, your natural first concern is for yourself. That's normal of course, but the reality is that others are affected as well. Maybe not in the same way as you, but certainly, they are affected.
Make it your business to find out who those other groups of people are. Find out their positions in an effort to explore possible coalition building possibilities. Even if you don't share all of the same goals, it's possible that the goals you do share can be advanced as a unit. This will allow everyone, including the decision-makers, to focus the bulk of efforts on areas where there is disagreement.
7. Use Technology; Don't Rely On It
It was incredibly expensive for me and 4 other business owners to fly to Washington, DC for a day of advocacy meetings. Consider that we came from Washington state, Oregon, North Carolina, South Carolina and Maryland. We invested in an expensive combination of air travel, cabs, metro fare, hotel rooms, meals, dry cleaning, printed folders and materials and more to get to DC and make ourselves known. I estimate that we spent a total of around $10,000.
Obviously, we are not equipped to fly to DC every time we want to make a point. For this reason, we are making good use of technology by scheduling conference calls with people we need to speak with. A good example of this is my conference call yesterday with a staffer in Senator DeMint's (R-SC) office), and my call scheduled for Monday with a staffer in Representative Kay Granger's (D-TX) office.
But we are not relying solely on conference calls and emails. We follow up each one with our written materials. We are also making ourselves available in person regardless of the cost to the most strategically situated decision-makers who show a more keen interest (either negative or positive) in our position. We realize that these people may one day drive the legislation in one direction or another and we want them to see our faces.
Appreciate the value of technology and how it can be used to your advantage. But know that it is a poor substitute for a smile and a handshake. Use technology. But don't try to make it do things it was not designed to do.
7. Inform the Media
The key here is "informing" the media, not driving them nuts or trying to force them to think this issue is as important to their audience as it is to you.
Choose media outlets with an audience that cares about your position. Then find out who is in charge of telling that audience about issues like yours. That's the person to contact.
Shelve the emotions, stick to the facts, keep it simple and show them that you have done your homework.
8. Don't Win the Battle and Lose the War
In any relationship, the art of compromise is extremely important. While this does not mean you cave in and behave like a door mat, it does mean that you realize that you are not the only person whose interests need to be accommodated with respect to a particular issue. In a relationship, you can win an argument and go to bed feeling victorious and peaceful. But you may also lose a piece of the relationship in the process.
In a political setting, that can be deadly.
Of course we're not married to Congress, but we are in a relationship with Congress in the sense that the cosmetics industry has been a regulated one since 1938 when the first federal cosmetics laws were enacted. When Congress starts making changes to laws that have been around for that long, the implications are extreme for a lot of different stakeholders.
It is Congress's job to reach a compromise among all of these different interests. You have to be prepared to help them do that or you risk being ignored.
9. Timing Is Important
Always be aware of the stage of the lawmaking process you are in. There's a difference between a draft law, a bill, a bill that's passed the House and is in the Senate, a bill that is the subject of intense negotiations between both sides of the House and on both sides of the aisle, and a bill that is about to hit the President's desk. Obviously, a draft law will not get as much attention as a bill will. And a bill won't get much attention until it stirs up some controversy.
Remember where you are in the process and time your various efforts to make the most of each stage.
10. Be Fluid And Flexible
It's August now. Media outlets are on vacation. Congress is not in session. When everyone comes back to work in September, we have to be ready to turn on a dime. Questions will start to fly back and forth. Emotions will run high. This is especially true since we learned last week of a desire on the part of some to have this legislation signed into law before the November elections.
Wherever you are in the process, and whatever political process you are trying to affect, be ready to change direction at any time. Keep your nose to the grindstone. Feel which direction the wind is coming in from. Listen to what people say. And what they don't say.
You never know when any of those things, together or in combination, will require you to move in a different direction.
What do you think?
I'm sure something is going on in your hometown that you would like to impact. It's tough to find the time, I know. The easy thing to do is to just let the chips fall where they may and hope for the best. But if you feel like you might want to try to impact a situation, can you use the information in this post? Do you have some other experiences you can share?
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