by Ron Nehring
In business and politics, the difference between growth and decline can often be traced to differences in culture.
Good executives understand this, which is why in highly competitive environments like Silicon Valley, CEO’s and their leadership teams expend enormous resources creating the kind of culture where people, and the company, can excel.
Politics isn’t dominated by people who have gone to the political equivalent of business school to learn the importance of a corporate culture. Campaigns and political parties are led by politicians and volunteers, creating a premium on sharing ideas and best practices among leaders. Degrees in political science and government have more to do with learning about the legislative process and federalism than building and leading successful organizations.
As a result, we see huge differences in effectiveness when we compare campaigns and political party organizations. Some excel, most fail. Among those that fail, a little more Silicon Valley and a little less Pyongyang School of Management can go a long way to getting a campaign or party committee on track.
For Republicans, who frequently extol the virtues of private sector management, this should be a natural. But too often, it isn’t.
So, what does it take to create a growing political campaign or party that reaches its full potential? Here are five qualities to look for.
Leadership with the right attitude. It all starts at the top with a leader who sets a tone that makes clear everyone in the organization is valued. If you’re new, we’re thrilled you’ve chosen to join us. If you’ve been around a while, thank you for being a part of this cause – you’re important, and we’re going to help you do even more.
While this may seem obvious, many political organizations lack this kind of atmosphere. Preoccupation with turf, thwarting rivals, holding on to power, and other forms of small thinking can cause leaders to become more concerned with keeping people away than bringing people in. Yet, political organizations require growth to survive. What Machiavelli said of cities is equally true in politics: you’re either growing, or shrinking – there is no middle ground.
Make politics fun, social and interesting. A relatively small number of activists are content to meet regularly to argue and debate the finer points of policy, or have loud arguments over inane side issues that few others care about. While these fights indulge the need for some to feel important, they turn off normal people who have been privately supporting us but are looking for a way to get involved.
We will never be able to cover all the precincts we need to cover with just the handful of hard core activists who show up at everything. It’s vital to create party events and opportunities that have the right balance of social interaction and political mission. Make events frequent, tight, succinct, don’t waste people’s time, and have a strong, positive social component.
Help people become more effective in advancing the cause. Political campaigns and parties depend on the number and effectiveness of its activists and leaders. Providing training and education opportunities to help people more effectively organize and communicate pays big dividends. People become more potent influencers, expanding the influence of the entire group, while showing people their involvement and participation is valued. No smart entrepreneur or manager puts staff on the front line or in the back office of their business without training – political leaders need to do the same.
Keep people engaged with quality communications. Campaign leaders and political officials need to protect strategic information from winding up in the hands of opponents, but this tendency is taken too far when it means volunteers, activists, donors, candidates and other stakeholders are given no information on plans and developments. In volunteer politics especially, people need to understand what their contributions of time and/or money are supporting, and how they fit into a plan for victory.
Encourage people to go the extra mile with recognition and credentials. Volunteers and even paid staff have other things they could be doing – spending time with friends and family, or anything other than stuffing envelopes or walking precincts. It’s human nature that people will contribute more to a cause if they believe the sacrifice of their time and effort is recognized and appreciate by those in leadership, and the group. Yet in a page seemingly taken from Soviet management, recognition in political organizations is often overlooked.
Frequent events provide more opportunities to recognize people for their time and effort. It encourages those being recognized to do more, and shows everyone watching that they’ll be recognized for going further as well.
‘Credentialing’ is related to recognition in that it’s another way of helping meritorious people advance. When someone is appointed to a special leadership position, or recognized with a special award, they are being given a credential they can cite that allows them to advance within the party or the community. It provides third-party validation that the person has been recognized for extraordinary accomplishment, or they have been trusted with a special position. Good leaders credential others because it strengthens the organization and the pool of talented individuals.
Republicans have plenty of challenges, but it is within the control of Republican leaders to create the culture and environment for victory.
The Republican Party of San Diego County has the right formula. Watch a 4 minute video recap of the big monthly Republican meeting in San Diego
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