The Human Element

Many believe that PAC strategy and implementation of action plans are a mechanical process:  Just develop a blueprint of action steps, tell people to execute those steps, and check periodically for progress.  The reality is that people are the most important part of implementation, and harnessing their energy and commitment to the PAC and its initiatives is often a PAC manager’s greatest challenge.

People have to feel that they have had some input and something to say about the plans they are told to implement.  Whether staff, volunteers or Boards of Directors, people must know that success is important.  They must be motivated to do the right things well.  And they must see real benefits for their hard work.

Enlist Involvement of Key People

Implementing PAC plans will go more smoothly if it has the backing and involvement of key people – and not just the CEO or EVP and his or her senior managers.  It goes without saying that top level involvement is important, but is also necessary to enlist support of staff and volunteers who others respect:  individuals with proven skills, people with access to resources, and the informal leaders to whom people naturally turn to for direction and advice.

Support the Plan with Consistent Behaviors and Messages

Once the need for a PAC initiative has been articulated convincingly and broad support has been enlisted, support must be maintained through a set of behaviors and messages.  Inconsistency in either will send damaging signals – that the organization is either not serious about implementing the strategy or unwilling to do its part.

Develop Enabling Structures

Enabling structures are the activities and programs that underpin successful implementation and are a critical part of the overall plan.  Such structures include pilot programs, training, and reward systems.

Pilot programs give people opportunities to grapple with implementation and its problems on a smaller, manageable scale.  They are test beds where implementers can experiment with and de-bug initiatives before rolling them out more broadly.

Training programs hold equal value.  Developing training programs for staff and volunteers involved in initiatives can serve as key enablers for qualifying and proving strategies.   The better educated the key implementers are about the plan; the more effective they will implement their responsibilities.

Reward systems also play a role.  People generally adopt behaviors that produce rewards, and abandon those that are not rewarded[1].  Thus, if your action plan asks people to work harder, work smarter, or work in new ways, your reward system must be aligned with those desired behaviors.

Celebrate Milestones

Implementing major PAC initiatives can be a long and frustrating road.  People are bound to grow tired or lose interest if positive actions are not taken to keep up with their spirits and energy.  You can keep people fired up if you identify milestones – even small ones- and celebrate them as they are achieved.  Celebrating a series of short-term wins can neutralize skeptics, provide evidence that people’s hard work is paying off, and keep up the momentum.

As President Bush no doubt found out following his dramatic landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln in 2003 to declare victory in Iraq, there is a fine line between celebrating a successful milestone and making a declaration of victory.  Crossing that line can dissipate the sense of urgency you need to keep people motivated and moving toward future hurdles.  Instead of declaring victory, use the celebration to muster energy to attack the next milestone.

Communicate Relentlessly

Communication is the most important tool available for implementing an initiative.  You must use communication to: make it clear what the strategy is; why it’s important; how effective implementation will benefit the organization; and what role each person plays in implementation.  Simply, people want to know how they fit in your world – tell them.

These four points should form the core of your pep talk to staff and volunteers.  And they should be the core of every communication and report to donors and prospects.

Communications is an effective tool for motivating staff and volunteers, overcoming resistance to your initiatives and for giving people a personal stake in the PAC.  Don’t rely on a single grand announcement; rather your communications should be ongoing.  Some tips for communicating include:

  1. Specify the nature of the initiative and the results for which you are aiming.
  2. Explain why you are implementing an initiative.
  3. Explain the scope of the initiative, even if it contains bad news.
  4. Develop a representation of the action plan so people can understand it and hold it in their heads.
  5. Predict the negative consequences of no initiative.
  6. Explain the criteria for success and how it is measured.
  7. Explain how people will be rewarded for success.
  8. Repeat, repeat, and repeat the purpose of the initiative and actions planned.
  9. Use diverse communications methods.
  10. Make communication a two-way street.
  11. Be consistent in behaviors and messages.

In the end, the people side of implementing a PAC initiative should be the most important concern to PAC managers.  Without people’s commitment and their hard work, plans are a waste of paper.

Trey Richardson is Principal of Sagac Public Affairs, LLC; a national company that helps political organizations succeed in today’s environment by providing market research, fundraising and communications solutions.

[1] The Art of Pain, Trey Richardson, Sagac Public Affairs, LLC, July 2007.

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