Lobbyists and Governance

I’ve had this topic on my list for some time now. I’ve used analogies to municipal/local/state/federal governance in past posts, and in a conversation someone made a comment that they thought I was going to continue the analogy on to include lobbyists. I made a mental note, because I knew there were definitely some parallels that could make for good blog fodder.

So, in a typical government, what do lobbyists do? In a nutshell, they do whatever they can to influence the policy makers to establish policies that are benefits the lobbyists or whoever they represent. In general, I think most individual voters probably have a negative view of lobbyists, except those whose beliefs happen to align with their own. So, are they a good thing or a bad thing?

Let’s come back to the whole purpose of governance. My definition of governance is that is the combination of people, policies, and processes that an entity utilizes to achieve a desired behavior. People set policies and processes ensure they are followed. As a reminder, enforcement processes are only one subset of processes that can be used. An organization could just as easily focus on education processes rather than enforcement and achieve the desired behavior. I stated earlier that lobbyists try to influence the policy makers (people) to establish policies in the interest of the lobbyists. Where this becomes a problem is when the people involved in governance lose sight of the objective of governance. Lobbyists are frequently associated with or simply referred to as “special interests.” By that term alone, there’s an obvious risk. Policies should be set to achieve the desired behavior of the organization, not the desired behavior of any special interest.

This is actually a frequent problem in the typical corporate enterprise. The first potential scenario is when the desired behavior of the enterprise isn’t well defined. Therefore, the policy makers won’t base their policies on enterprise behavior, but rather on the desired behavior of the people in the organization who have their ear (the lobbyists). This can go down a really bad path, because it’s likely to lead to infighting within the governance structure, and most likely ineffective governance.

The second scenario is when the desired behavior of the organization is well known to the policy makers, but not to the rest of the organization. Once again, the rest of the organization will operate like a bunch of lobbyists, trying to sway policy in their direction so they can do what they think is best. The governance team will likely be perceived as being in an ivory tower and out of touch. The real problem in this scenarion is that the constituents in the enterprise don’t know what the desired behavior is, and as a result, they’re guessing. Some will be right, many will be wrong, and all will be unhappy.

A third scenario, which can’t be forgotten is the role of vendors and other third parties. Once again, their vested interest is not in your desired behavior, but theirs. Buy our products, buy our services. You need to be in control of the desired behavior and choose vendors and services that are in alignment, rather than letting them try to change your policies to something more amenable to them.

The whole point of this is that the presence of lobbyists in the entity being governed has the potential for problems. If you see a lot of lobbying in your organization, the first place to go back to is your desired behavior. If that behavior is well understood by the organization, your need for active enforcement should be far less because people understand and want to do the right thing. If the desired behavior isn’t known by the governors or the constituents, you’ve open the doors to outside influence and controversy. This doesn’t imply that a governor shouldn’t have advisors, but the first question that should always be asked is, “Is this action consistent with the desired behavior we want?”

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