The five focus areas on your first 100 days as a Public Affairs professional

It isn’t always easy for a newly appointed public affairs professional to know where to begin the work of expanding the organisation's influence. But Ulobby CEO and experienced PA advisor Anders Kopp Jensen has identified 5 critical focus areas in his new book The Public Affairs Engine. Here we present you with an extract of the book on just that:

It is said that President Roosevelt, in his first 100 days in office, sent 15 messages to congress, guided 15 major laws to enactment, delivered 10 speeches, held press conferences and cabinet meetings twice a week, conducted talks with foreign heads of state, sponsored an international conference, made all the major decisions in domestic and foreign policy, and never displayed fright or panic and rarely even irritability.

Whether this is completely true or not, it is clear that the first 100 days matter. According to a survey by the Boston Consulting Group, leaders are particularly scrutinized during the first 100 days in their new job. This means that the impressions of the first quarter last. Everyone wants to back a winner, and a strong first 100 days can set the standard and tone for the coming years.

Listen and learn

As first impressions last, make sure you listen a lot more than you talk. A mistake often seen in leaders in new jobs is that they are very eager to show value and signal change. Even though you will most likely quick- ly identify something which needs to be changed, be careful and think before you act. Of course, you haven’t been brought on just to maintain the status quo, but nothing screams “new leader trying to impress” than changing a ton of things in your first week – firing, hiring, restructuring, cancelling Friday breakfast, changing the furniture, etc. Some things make sense to change, even quickly, but most often it’s better to communicate on the first day that you plan to listen and ask a whole lot of questions, and after some time you will have a much better understanding of what works and what needs to be improved. Maybe you could even share the framework you use (like the PA Engine model) so they know how you go about this and invite them to make suggestions on what needs to be changed. Make an objective assessment, think it through and then act on it. But remember you can’t do a thorough assessment without listening.

Analyze the situation

To make an objective assessment you should analyze the organizational structure and team roles, have a 1:1 with all members of the team, and meet some customers and external stakeholders or partners you have to work closely with. What you are doing is of course the diagnosis of the patient, the status check of the organization. Understand the internal organizational performance, which especially requires an assessment of the PA performance from people in other departments working indirectly or directly with PA. Externally, you need to get a sense of how the organization is doing, is being perceived, and what you experience when you meet important stakeholders wearing the uniform. If the PA team is using agencies you of course also need to get their views on the situation – and assess their work.

Progress: Don’t just say it, show it (fast)

Even though you should take a listening approach and be open and sympathetic during the first few days, this doesn’t mean your organization shouldn’t notice the new person in charge. Often it is easy to identify small wins in the beginning. It can mean changing the internal meeting structure a little, taking your time to listen in a more coaching manner, asking questions about matters you are unsure about, etc. In PA departments a new leader should also be very aware of “network competitions” which can easily appear as team members try to signal their value to the organization. Try to turn the focus on the business objectives and the obstacles in the way and let this drive the agenda if the network competition begins to show itself.

Create alliances internally

Sitting at your desk all day is not the best way of kicking off your new role. Visibility is key, not in a “center of attention” way, but more in a genuine interest in learning more about your new colleagues and environment. If you are an introvert, then do it anyway, but of course in a way that’s true to who you are. It is important to start with the people around you, both in your team, but also upwards in the organization. Identify how it works, the unwritten rules and the norms of the organization. Take your col- leagues out to lunch – preferably out of the office, as it provides a more informal conversational environment, in which they are more likely to reveal their preferences, motivations, ambitions and the like. Remember “no man is an island” and you cannot promote change if you cannot get people to work with you. You need to form alliances not only in your own team, but also with other leaders in the organization. And the best pre- requisite for this is to provide value to them, and simply ask them what you can do to help them become a success. A lunch with this objective can then turn into a “joint venture group” between you and sales, in which you, for instance, discuss coming tenders and how you and your team can help them increase the chances of winning. But try to spread yourself around internally and talk to very different people, so you increase your knowledge about the organization but also create more friends across the organization.

Plan for the future

So, once you have finished the four steps above after the first couple of weeks, you are now ready to present your thoughts, including an outline of the strengths and challenges and a plan for both the short- and long term. This should include a list of initiatives for the coming 1-2 years, organizational changes, budget and purpose of the PA function. Therefore, in short, you need to think ahead and have the answers for these questions – and if you don’t, then make sure you pre-empt or address them in a way that doesn’t create unrest or insecurity. Whether you are planning a minor transition, transformation or complete revolution you should be aware of “reading” the rules and norms of the organization, so you can prepare for the pushback or reactions to these new initiatives. Why? Because they will risk blocking your external activities further down the road, if not handled carefully.

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