Success Strategies for Government Affairs Leaders: From Regulations to ROI
by Lisa Rabasca Roepe, FiscalNote
Best practices to meet the challenges common to government affairs and how to excel in your leadership role.
Leaders in the government and regulatory affairs space are facing more challenges as they try to navigate public policy, regulation, and political obstacles for their organizations at the local, state, federal, and global levels. In the past, much of the focus was on Congress but with federal lawmakers at loggerheads, government affairs leaders need to be more aware of federal regulations and state laws, as well as policy discussions beyond U.S. borders.
In this highly complex and ever-changing landscape, it can be challenging to effectively manage a team, organize workflow, and report on your work to show ROI. Read on for best practices to meet these challenges and excel in your leadership role.
With access to more platforms and public arenas for discussions and debates, the universe of influence is infinitely larger and that’s an opportunity and challenge.Daniel Schwarz, Hill+Knowlton Strategies
Head of U.S. Public Affairs
Challenges for Government Affairs Leaders
One of the most significant challenges government affairs leaders must tackle is navigating the highly polarized political environment, which can make it difficult to build consensus and achieve policy objectives. At the same time, you are likely facing a wide range of opportunities to advocate for your organization's priorities in front of legislators at all levels of government.
Government affairs teams can no longer solely focus on Congress and its legislative process. Gridlock means your team must look beyond the Hill to the agencies creating regulations, state legislatures enacting local laws, and even school and state boards making local policy decisions.
It’s not just campaign donors and members of Congress thinking about issues, says Daniel Schwarz, head of U.S. Public Affairs at Hill+Knowlton Strategies. Every issue can have local, regional, national, and even international implications.
“With access to more platforms and public arenas for discussions and debates, the universe of influence is infinitely larger and that’s an opportunity and challenge,” Schwarz says.
For some issues, policy discussions go beyond U.S. borders. “Geopolitics is a central piece of any conversation on a whole host of issues from the continuing fallout and ongoing navigation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to tensions with China,” Schwarz says. Even for companies that are solely U.S.-based, geopolitics impacts everything from the future of artificial intelligence to supply chain disruptions, he says.
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Best Practices for Government Affairs Leaders
As a government affairs leader, you must adjust your strategies due to changes in federal regulatory activity, congressional gridlock, and increased state legislative action. Here are some best practices to keep in mind.
Focus on Regulatory Activity
With less focus on Congress, VPs of government affairs need to keep a closer eye on regulatory activity and work more closely with colleagues in departments that align closely with government affairs, such as legal and compliance.
Most new federal policies stem from increased regulatory activity among government agencies rather than legislation passed by Congress, says Nancy Conneely, managing director of policy for AccessLex. Regulatory changes often come at a quicker pace than legislative action, she adds. Instead of focusing on meetings on the Hill, Conneely and her staff spend more time providing comments at public hearings, submitting written comments, coordinating with other partners, and attending rulemaking sessions.
With more focus on regulatory action, government affairs leaders need to make sure their team is immersed in topics that interest their organization and its stakeholders and to become experts in these areas, Conneely says. Your team should be able to interpret proposed or new regulations correctly to understand their impact.
But Don't Forget About Congress
Conneely warns that while vice presidents of government affairs teams may focus primarily on agency regulations, their team can’t forget about the Hill and Congress. “Just because things seem slow going doesn’t mean a perfect storm won’t come together and something you care about won’t get wrapped up in that,” she says.
Navigate State & Local Laws
Congressional gridlock also means more policies are being made at the local level, forcing companies to deal with a patchwork of state laws. For instance, the expectation has been that Congress would pass legislation focused on anti-trust and online safety that would significantly impact technology companies.
“In the end, Congress didn’t come out with any big bills and what we’re seeing is more state legislatures taking action, creating for companies a patchwork of different approaches,” Schwarz says. For instance, 27 states, including Florida, Maryland, and Texas have banned the use of TikTok on state government-owned devices.
As a result, companies need to figure out how each state law impacts its business, how to respond to it, who their allies are, and who they need to be engaged with on these specific issues, Schwarz says. It also means there is not just one centralized conversation in Washington, D.C., about technology policy, but a conversation that takes place in many places.
That requires government affairs VPs to do more policy analysis and landscape assessment to determine the local political viewpoint in a specific jurisdiction and the policies that are bubbling up at the local level. Understanding how federal, state, and local political dynamics overlap elevates your team and helps VPs stand out.
Take an Integrated Approach
Leaders of government affairs teams also need to take a more integrated approach to their work if they’re going to succeed. Public and government affairs overlap with internal communications, external affairs, legal, and compliance, requiring companies to pull down the silos that naturally exist, Schwarz says.
“Government can change the expectation and rules that organizations are required to operate in,” says Donald F. Kettl, public management scholar at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. There is a growing risk that corporations could find the environment changing due to changes in federal and state laws, and regulations, he says.
Demonstrate Your Team’s ROI
A team’s ROI is a collection of risks avoided in terms of new regulations and new threats in the market, Kettl says. “It’s hard to quantify but tremendously important,” he adds.
While it’s easy to look at ROI in terms of the success or failure of a specific legislation or regulatory decision, it’s important that VPs take a much wider view and track perceptions around the issue, Schwarz says. For instance, how successful was your coalition building on an important issue? Success is not based on just one metric but several, he says.
Effective reporting is critical to demonstrating the value of your government affairs team and ensuring that your organization's leadership understands the impact of your work. To report your work effectively, you should:
Develop a reporting framework that aligns with your organization's goals. Identify the key metrics that demonstrate the value of your work and develop a reporting framework that aligns with your organization's strategic priorities.
Use data to demonstrate the impact of your work. Leverage data and analytics tools to measure the impact of your team's work and communicate that impact to key stakeholders.
Communicate your successes effectively. Develop a communication strategy that highlights your team's successes and demonstrates the value of your work.
How FiscalNote Can Help Government Affairs Leaders
The increasing use of technology to manage workflow and collaborate with stakeholders is essential for your work in government affairs. If you’re a vice president of a government affairs or regulatory affairs team, FiscalNote provides a suite of tools that can help you mitigate risk, find opportunities, organize your team, and prove ROI. FiscalNote provides a strategic approach to pursuing the opportunities that arise from public policy.
From awareness to action, FiscalNote’s suite of products helps you discover bills or regulations that affect your organization, manage key stakeholder networks, create strategic road maps, take action, and demonstrate your success through metrics and reporting.
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