Succeeding at Issue Management - The Art of the Winnable Position

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Many issue managers do not recognize one of the fundamental principles of issue management - some issues are simply not winnable. The reality is that winning at issue management, public relations, governmental affairs or politics requires that you start by picking a winnable position and moving forward from that position.

In order to determine and succeed at a winning position, a successful issue manager should begin by thoroughly and carefully identifying all stakeholders and their particular interests. For the sake of definition, stakeholders are generally comprised of a diverse group of people and, depending on the issue at hand, may include business owners, local, state, and federal elected officials, constituents, customers, competitors, colleagues and peers, or simply the general public. Consequently, any solution to resolve a conflict among opposing viewpoints must take into account the interests and concerns of all stakeholders and seek unifying and mutually-beneficial solutions. Not only is this excellent issue management, but it promotes positive public relations and turns issues into opportunities for the growth of a community.

Consider, for example, that a new manufacturing plant intends to come to an economically depressed town. The manufacturing plant almost definitely means an economic revival for a distressed community. However, the community - unfamiliar with modern manufacturing processes - may be concerned with the introduction of increased noise, traffic or other manufacturing issues into their community, impacting residents of the area and community stakeholders. In this case, a successful issue manager would help bridge the gap between the manufacturer and the community by providing information to the public and by helping to create viable solutions to potential challenges. The public should also be made aware of the protective safety systems the plant will employ to protect the public from routine or accidental releases. Likewise, the manufacturer should be made aware of the specific concerns within the community. Each of these two-sided issues should be addressed methodically one-by-one. In best practice, the stakeholders themselves should be given a role in reaching solutions that are mutually beneficial.

For instance, in the case of the manufacturing plant, a proposed above-ground crosswalk will increase the safety of persons who must cross a busy street to get to the facility. Yet the walkway will likely increase the cost of the project. The stakeholders here are street-crossers on one side, and facility budget managers on the other side. Both sides have legitimate concerns, and both sides are in need of forward-thinking leadership by an issue manager. Seeking mutually-beneficial solutions will foster positive engagement and meaningful dialogue between the parties on both sides of the issue.

In the case of the crosswalk, a successful issue manager will be aware that while some CEOs are tightly focused on all costs of operation and resist spending a dime more than they are not absolutely required to, the costs of litigation associated with street-crosser safety would greatly overshadow any extra costs to accommodate the concerns of residents in the host community or, in this case, street-crossers. Consider that the legal referral company eLawForum estimated that corporations spend $210 billion annually in after-tax profits on litigation. The group reached this conclusion on the basis of an eight-year study using litigation data. Thus, it is vital to manage the issue as both a short- and long-term issue. Cost cutting today could mean heavy litigation costs tomorrow, not to mention the public relations fallout. On the other hand, forward-thinking investment in a pedestrian crosswalk mitigates the dangers of street crossing while demonstrating the manufacturer's commitment to the community's safety and well-being and promoting strong public relations.

Unfortunately, a win for some stakeholders can mean a loss for others; rarely is an issue as simple as it may appear on the surface. In issue management, the "win-win" scenario is attainable, however, but is always the result of hard work, innovative leadership, and strategic execution. You will recognize the winning position when you arrive there - it is one that leaves all stakeholders with the perception that they have received a fair resolution and with the confidence to move forward together on mutually-beneficial solutions.

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Tom Mullikin has 1 articles online

Tom Mullikin, a senior environmental attorney with the Charlotte law firm of Moore & Van Allen, is a widely regarded speaker and author on the environmental, governmental affairs, and issues management challenges of our day.

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Succeeding at Issue Management - The Art of the Winnable Position

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This article was published on 2010/03/31