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Public Affairs Insights from the Centre

1 Sep 2015

Making strategy real – the Famous Five

Wayne Burns

The road to implementing corporate public affairs strategy in the face of the constant headwinds of a dynamic business environment are littered with good intentions.

The Centre’s 2015 State of Australian Public Affairs reports, encouragingly, that about 40 per cent of corporate public affairs management functions develop strategy extending beyond two years, with the remainder focused on annual strategy.

However, successfully developing a strategy is only half the story.

One of the greatest challenges of managing the public affairs function in a large organisation is making sure strategy stays alive, and in particular that it lives and breathes when decisions are made in reactive mode – in which most heads of function say about 50 per cent to 60 per cent of public affairs activity occurs.

Our observations over many years suggest that strategy will remain a caged and docile creature unless it’s at the centre of discussions and decisions about tactics, and the daily transactions with stakeholders (including internal) that characterise business as usual.

These observations have been informed by many sage heads of corporate public affairs, who are not only good at developing strategy, but dab hands also at placing strategy at the centre of managing day to day issues and the many hundreds of stakeholder interactions and transactions that comprise an average month of public affairs.

Our ‘Famous Five’ actions to keep strategy alive.
1. Strategy on a page – now de rigueur in most corporate public affairs teams, a strategy on a page (A4 – no cheating with A3) contains a maximum of six or seven strategies that have a measurable performance indicator against each one. Each team member is encouraged to carry the strategy on a page in their note books, and to pin a copy to their work station so that strategy is understood, and is a constant presence.

2. Strategy is a standing agenda item of all team work in progress meetings – work in progress meetings are focused on progress towards achieving each corporate public affairs strategy. Discussion of tactics, projects, initiatives, issues and upcoming work has to be referenced to how activity will support corporate affairs strategy being achieved. ‘Strategy – how are we progressing?’ is a standing agenda item for discussion.

3. Quarterly, scheduled strategy review – the leadership team of the function formally reviews progress against strategy every three months (most frequently up to a three hour review meeting) with a view to reporting the outcomes of the review (including agreed actions) to discipline teams in the function (for instance, internal communications, government relations, stakeholder communications). Many functions offer formal quarterly corporate public affairs strategy updates to the leadership teams of other business divisions to report on progress, and engage leaders with public affairs strategy.

4. Know OST – Objective, Strategy, Tactics. Making sure every practitioner in the function understands the difference between an objective, a strategy, and a tactic. Good practice sees understanding OST embedded in formal induction for practitioners joining the function, in formal professional development programs (including refresher programs for senior practitioners). All planning and reporting of public affairs outcomes is aligned with an OST-type framework.

5. Share accountability for developing and delivering strategy – corporate public affairs team engagement with strategy is highest in functions in which there is opportunity for practitioners to contribute to strategy in some way; and in functions and discipline teams that break down elements of the strategy and make practitioners clearly accountable for those elements. This includes embedding accountabilities for delivering specific elements of strategy in individual practitioner performance targets and reviews.

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