By Bob Keener
The incoming administration will include far more people than any before who will take senior positions from business executive backgrounds and who have no public policymaking experience.
This raises two questions: To what extent is the government really like a business? And to what extent should business models and practices be applied to the work of governance? The answer to both is: It depends — on what kind of business models and practices we’re talking about.
There’s a big difference between business as a force for good, for individual mobility and social stability, and business as winner-take-all, exploitive, extractive and – most dangerous – wielding ultimate power over citizens.
What people usually mean by “businesslike” public governance is crucial because of the real-world decisions that flow from that view of business, including policies enacted to make the county more “business-friendly.” Far from supporting and encouraging business as a force for good, the dog-eat-dog approach is completely at odds with the values that most triple-bottom-line business leaders hold.
If you lead a business that values people and the planet as well as profits, your values – and the way you choose to operate — are under attack in a truly threatening way. Many well-meaning legislators craft laws based on the tireless fictions handed them by the Chamber of Commerce and other old-school business advocacy groups. If you know there’s a better way, it’s time stand up for it in public and with policymakers. It’s time to become an activist for business as a force for good.
Here’s where you can start.
1. Join with others
You are not alone. A big difference between the last time we had a new administration and today is that, in eight years, we’ve seen explosive growth in responsible, sustainable, triple-bottom-line companies. You may already be connected with organizations full of business owners and managers who share your values. Many are wondering what to do now. You don’t need to have the answers; you do need to reach out, connect and engage with like-minded business people to come up with those answers.
The most important goals of your action plan should focus on policy:
- Protecting existing policies that represent the healthier business environment you want to have
- Preventing new policies that give advantages to winner-take-all businesses
For example, at the American Sustainable Business Council, we are prioritizing climate and workplace policies to slow climate change and reverse economic inequality, both of which have a profound, negative impact on all businesses, long-term as well as short-term.
2. Prioritize your issues
With so many aspects of good government in jeopardy, it would be easy to feel overwhelmed. But you must set clear priorities and focus on them to thrive in business, and the same is true in your policy advocacy.
For guidance, look for areas of synergy with your business and your stakeholders. For example, some ASBC members in the tourism industry focus on clean water or nature preservation; some in the business of womenswear focus on family-friendly workplace policies. Find the issues that are important to your business wellbeing and your customers, and once you’ve chosen the top two or three issues, commit to them long-term.
3. Understand your power and clarify your principles
When business people engage in policy advocacy, they find that elected officials and the media pay attention – a lot of attention. This is why business lobbyists wield such outsized influence. It’s time responsible business people turned that influence to their own advantage.
To make sure your messages are heard, put them in business and economic terms. For example, point out the economic risks to your business and your industry from extreme weather events due to climate change. Or, talk about how putting more money in the pockets of low-wage workers by increasing the minimum wage would boost consumer demand in general and help your business specifically.
Having clear principles, such as sustainability and maximizing opportunity within our communities, will help others understand your perspective and will boost your credibility with politicians and the media.
4. Lobby your state and federal legislators
To set up meetings with them, use your well-earned clout by telling them you are a business owner or executive. Ask them what they hear from other business leaders and counter any arguments that support the winner-take-all business agenda.
Just by showing up, you let policymakers know people with your views are just as much part of “the business community” as the people who pressure them for winner-take-all concessions. Have specific policy proposals that you support and let policymakers know that you will support them if they support the proposal. Invite them to tour your facility so they can see first-hand your principles and values in action.
5. Speak out — and build your brand, too
As a business leader, you have an important voice in your local and regional communities as well as in your industry. You already do everything you can to promote your business, products and services. When you add your policy perspectives to all your communications (website, local news interviews, mass mailers, etc.), you help build support for healthier policies in the same way. Plus, you get the distinct, added benefit of showing the public and your prospects how your company is living out its values. Yes, consumers and business buyers do vote with their buying choices!
The bottom line
As the new administration in Washington moves to make policy “business-friendly,” they’ll tell us we must give up our values of responsible stewardship of the environment and opportunity for all. We know that’s not right. But a more compelling fact these days is that it’s also not sustainable. Even the most short-sighted politician can be helped to understand that – if the message comes from responsible business leaders like you.
Image credit: Pixabay