A thoughtful approach to introducing yourself to the new Ontario Government.
It’s a cliché – only one chance to make a first impression. But like many clichés, it’s also true. That’s why we recommend a very thoughtful approach to your first contacts with the new government.
TIP 1: You’ll be trying to introduce yourself to some very busy people
- New Ministers, new MPPs and new Political Staff are often almost overwhelmed by events
- New roles, new offices, new colleagues, new things to learn
- Excitement and a sense of being very important, combined with anxiety about all the new pressures
- Family, friends and people hoping to use their connections with the newly important will all want to be in touch – urgently.
- The last thing they need is an urgent demand to spend time meeting new organizations when they don’t yet have a real grasp on their new reality.
It’s crazy time for new Ministers and their staff – and for new MPPs.
Put yourself in their position… and ask yourself… how much would you appreciate it if the Executive Director of any organization started calling and demanding an urgent meeting…
Not a great way to get started on a new friendship.
- There’s so much noise around the newly important it’s hard to make yourself heard.
- Plus – it’s important to avoid appearing to be pressuring these newly important individuals
- In this context, pressure will arouse resentment.
- It’s also a little rude.
- That doesn’t mean you do nothing.
- It just means you do nothing that seems pushy or demanding.
You probably won’t be heard in all the hubbub that surrounds a new government and
– if you insist on being heard – you’ll probably awaken a negative – and a lastingly negative – response.
But there are still things you can… and should do… as you prepare to meet the new government.
TIP 2: Introducing yourself to the new government is a gradual process.
- There are some very sensible things you can do leading up the introduction
- A courtesy – a brief note of congratulations on the new appointment, saying “I know you’re very busy now but I’ll take the liberty of calling your office next month to talk about ways we can work together to meet the government’s goals”.
- Some research: Do we have mutual acquaintances? Does this individual have a track record on your issues? Do we think they are knowledgeable about our issues?
- A political scan: Are their issues upcoming in the near or medium future where the newly important will want our help or advice (or we theirs)?
You don’t just sit and wait until the new Ministers and political staff are less busy – a little hint here, that day never comes. But you work to get your ducks in a row while you’re waiting for an opportune time to approach them.
Being polite is always in fashion – and a congratulatory note is just good manners. It’s flattering, and it’s a chance to leave a positive message.
Looking for mutual acquaintances is very important. It’s so much better to say “John Jones suggested I call” than it is to make a truly cold call.
And checking your radar for urgent issues is a good idea. If you have something coming up where the government is likely to affect your interests, you may have to adopt a more urgent approach. That’s tougher, but we can help you with it if it comes to that.
TIP 3: The “permanent government” – Ontario’s Public Service – will be part of your introduction to the new government.
- Your public service contacts will be an invaluable source of information and advice about the new Ministers and political staff
- They will also be an invaluable source of information and advice to the new Ministers and political – about you!
- Keep this professional. The Public Service works for the government, not you.
- The challenge is to assure them they can best serve the government by working with you.
- Your objective is to have the public service tell Ministers and their staffs that “we can work with these people”.
And while you’re waiting for the smoke to clear around the newly important people in the Minister’s office, it’s a good idea to focus on your public service contacts – the ones that last longer than individual governments.
TIP 4: Is it likely that the new government may have some negative pre-conceptions about you?
- Do you or your organization have a history with these individuals?
- Thinking back on the election campaign, did you or your organization attack the character of these individuals or their parties?
- During the campaign, did the other parties position you and your organization as part of the broader opposition to the new government?
- It is not necessary to apologize for opposing the government, but avoid becoming an active part of the permanent opposition or questioning the government’s legitimacy.
And while you’re at it… give a thought to any pre-conceptions the new government might have about you and your organization. It could arise from long ago events, or from things you or your people said or did during the election campaign. Or it could be something as simple as having another political party feature you in their advertising against the government.
Any way… you’ll have to address these things going forward. We can help you figure out how to do that.
TIP 5: When you do contact the new government, have a clear reason to talk, and an assurance of good will in your dealings with the government.
- “The new Ford Government will be around for the next four years at least, and we’re looking for creative ways to help the government succeed”.
- That should be a true statement – regardless. It doesn’t mean you won’t find yourself in opposition to the government. It means you’re open to opportunities to work together.
- “We’d like to talk to you because… “
Two things here. The first is that it’s critical to be seen as someone who acknowledges the government’s legitimacy. You don’t have to have liked the Ford PCs, but once they’re the Ford Government, you have to be realistic and have them know you’re realistic: you have to work with the government you have.
The second thing – and this should be obvious but often isn’t – you need a reason to talk.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had government people ask “What where they asking for?” when groups talk to the government. You need a clear ask – a clear reason to meet, and clear reasons why resolving the issues is good for everyone involved.
TIP 6: There are 3 reasons to ask to meet the new government.
Reason One: to ask for advice.
- It is always flattering to be asked for advice and it makes good sense: “In our situation, how would you suggest we approach the government?”
- Identifying areas for co-operation… “I think we can work together on…”
Reason Two: to offer help or support.
- If the government is considering doing something you agree with – or something less awful than you had feared – will you be their partner?
Reason Three: to advocate for your issues.
- If you have followed the suggestions here… that can be a useful meeting.
And here… we’re back to Leonard Domino 101: the reasons to talk to government. It goes back to what we were just talking about… making sure we have a reason to approach government and ask for their time. Ask yourselves… when do any of these three reasons for talking to government seem appropriate for your organization? Which will motivate your next contact with the government?
TIP 7: What approaches will you follow as you plan your introduction to the new government?
- That’s the assignment…
- Preparation with the public service
- Research on the individuals
- Crafting your messages to fit the new government’s values
- Seeking advice (it never hurts to ask)
The fact that you’ll be facing a new government in a little under a month makes all this seem a little urgent… but once again… this stuff looks easy, and it’s often not easy at all. These people are busy. They are important people, and some of them feel more important than others which can make it interesting to deal with them. And you need your ducks in a row before you begin asking for any of their precious time. Again, this is what we do for a living, and we can help you with it, but for today – take a few minutes to discuss how you’ll approach making that first impression with Ontario’s new government.