Engaging in Public Policy: 5 Questions for Stewart Verdery of Monument Policy Group

Workday Rising this year included a number of wide-ranging sessions with executive attendees, including a roundtable where participants learned about the ins and outs of public policy. Facilitated by Stewart Verdery, founder and CEO of Monument Policy Group, the discussion touched on the climate in Washington, thoughts on next year’s congressional election, and, most importantly, why and how companies can help shape policy.

We had a chance to sit down with Verdery—whose group advises Workday and other organizations on policy matters—after the roundtable to ask him about engaging with policymakers and why companies should care about policy engagement.

Let’s start with the simple question: Why should companies care about public policy?

It’s never been more important for companies to have a voice in Washington. There’s almost no business now that doesn’t have a major stake in what’s going on in D.C. The infighting and the general nastiness may make it harder to want to engage. But, if you don’t tell your story; if you’re not part of the conversation; if you’re not known by policymakers, best case you don’t have a voice. Worst case, people are going to assume the worst.

“You build credibility with other companies and politicians if you’re willing to take a position.”

And there are other reasons to engage, too, beyond specific policy issues that might impact a company. For some companies, their customers are asking them to be engaged on behalf of their interests. For some companies, it’s their employee base who are socially active. You see that certainly on immigration and other social justice fronts.

For a company that’s starting out on this journey, that’s not engaged in the political process today, where should they start?

What was the old KISS system? Keep It Simple, Stupid. Pick a couple issues that have a bottom-line impact or resonance with a key executive. Make sure it’s a manageable lift. There’s no point in having a 38th priority. Pick a couple of issues, and begin to tell your story to key Members of Congress.

Show policymakers why they should care. Every day they’re getting bombarded with people telling them to care about somebody’s inquiry. Why should they care about you? Do you have a good jobs story? Are you bringing innovation to the market? Are you fulfilling some societal demand? Does one of your executives have great connections in the community that can help the Member?

What do you see your most successful clients doing? What sets apart the companies that are effective at engaging on policy?

The way I like to think about it is: “Who punches above their weight?” Some of our clients are really good at explaining to Members of Congress the benefits of their company in a district. Others punch above their weight because they’re willing to stick their necks out and stake out a position on something they’re interested in.

“Companies shouldn’t wait until there is an issue to cultivate relationships.”

And back to the point of picking your issues; you build credibility with other companies and politicians if you’re willing to take a position. Your weight does matter. Sticking your neck on one issue builds some credibility for another issue.

There’s a lot going on in Washington every day. How important is it to be in that ongoing conversation?

It’s important to participate in the day-to-day debates in Washington. Companies shouldn’t wait until there is an issue to cultivate relationships. When you’re walking in with a tough ask or even a small ask, it needs to be based on a record of engagement so you’re not starting from scratch.

This usually means having people in D.C., explaining your company, your issues, and why policymakers should care. Finding good storytellers who can work with people from far left to far right is a hard thing, but those are the people who do the best work.

There are other tools, too. If your company has either a product or a facility that you can display, that’s very effective. Take a politician or a member of the administration to your factory or research facility and show them what is being created. For those companies that produce something intangible or hard to show off, make a case for what the company has done for productivity or for the economy.

There are a lot of complex issues being debated in Washington: immigration, tax reform, and healthcare, to name just three. How should companies be planning for what’s coming?

It’s hard to plan for the unknown. That’s a big reason to be engaged—you know the state of play, and where the conversation is. Using tax reform as an example, companies probably need to spend time right now advocating for what they think is important: Do you like the general thrust of tax reform but maybe would like to tweak one of the elements? Or do you spend your energies advocating for or against the legislation itself?

Try to make sure that you’re well-situated for where these complex issues will shake out. Think about a few different scenarios and model them, to see where you’d end up if X or Y or Z happened. And, stay engaged.