What MBAs don’t tell you: focus on government

Posted by: on Jun 27, 2022 | No Comments

There is no denying the need for everyone to undertake professional development at all stages of a career. But too often courses aimed at senior leaders, such as MBAs, fail to consider the critical role of public affairs. They are leaving a huge gap.

Courses such as MBAs are designed to equip participants with key business skills. These are often considered to be: team management, strategy development and, of course, leadership skills. By looking at organisations as a whole, they cover accounting, finance, marketing, law, and human resources. But PR and communications, especially public affairs, feature little, if at all.

I am sure that I am doing some courses a massive disservice, but many remain trapped in traditional ways of thinking about businesses. If Covid taught us anything, it is that governments now intervene across sectors and that applies to all countries. Just because Covid is diminishing, that does not mean that governments are stepping away.

At a time when the relevance and cost of MBAs are being questioned, there is more competition in the marketplace than ever before and there are other, often more specialist, alternatives available, it is critical that they equip leaders to recognise the value of PR and especially public affairs.

What should they include?

  • instincts will only take you so far – one of the reasons why public affairs is not always taken seriously in such settings is that it is assumed that leaders already know how to deal with politicians and government. That often isn’t the case. There is no guaranteeing that anyone really understands how their own government operates and makes decisions, let alone in other markets in which they operate. They also fail to appreciate the motivations of government or separate the roles of officials from politicians.
  • relationship building – good public affairs is about developing relationships over the long term, so this is not about being transactional. Instead, a nuanced and personal approach is the only one that will pay dividends. This approach is what can make governmental relationships different from others.
  • listening skills – with the best will in the world, politicians like to talk, and they have opinions. It is important to be prepared to consider and listen to them properly. Leaders may prefer to be listened to and they may be forceful in their opinions. Such approaches are less likely to be effective. The critical thing to remember is that politics is very different from business – the key audience, politicians, put themselves up for election, business leaders do not. That means that their motivations and requirements are different.
  • confrontation rarely wins – the people at the very senior levels of government are not always the ones you need to engage with. An angry letter fired off to a Prime Minister may make an executive feel better, but it is highly unlikely to be effective. In some circumstances, starting at the top can add delays that could count against the issue and, in the worst-case scenario, could even be counterproductive. The reality is that an effective approach with government is one based on delivering solutions, not simply pointing out problems and getting others to resolve them.
  • public affairs is fundamental to reputation management – done well public affairs helps to identify and address risks, deal with issues before they arise, and ensure that voices are heard in policy development and implementation. Government makes rational decisions based on the information available to it. If the decisions are wrong, then the fault lies with those who fail to engage.

And why is all this important? Because governments have a real impact on how all organisations work, across every aspect of their operations. Politicians also have the ability to impact on reputations. What they say and do really counts.

Therefore, MBAs should accurately reflect such important business lessons.